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The NY Times Is Misleading. And Who Is Correct? Eurostat or China Customs?

The NY Times Is Misleading. And Who Is Correct? Eurostat or China Customs?

by Rebecca Wilder

The NY Times reports quite a dire situation as regards the slump in the value of Chinese exports to the European Union in July:

Data published this month showed that China’s exports to the European Union had sunk 16.2 percent in July to $29.4 billion, compared with July 2011.

This statistic (bolded by yours truly) is misleading.

First, China Customs measures exports in nominal dollars. If you look at Chinese exports measured in, let’s say euros, it doesn’t look quite as bad. In July, exports to the European Union (EU 27) dropped -3.6% over the year measured in euros versus a -16.2% annual decline measured in dollars. The dollar appreciated against the euro over the measurement period so the drop in China’s exports to the EU 27 is much lower in euros.

Note: This is only an approximation since I use the average monthly exchange rate, which is unlikely to align perfectly with China Customs’ measurement period.

An interesting corollary to the FX impact on ‘value’ statistics is the various statistical agencies that report presumably the same statistic. Eurostat publishes import data by partner and in euros. Using the average exchange rate over the month, I calculate the value of EU 27 imports from China reported in dollars for comparison to the China Customs data. Eurostat data is available only through June.
In June, Eurostat reports that EU 27 imports from China dropped -11.1% measured in dollars compared to the reported -1.1% annual reduction in exports from China to the EU 27 by China Customs. Clearly the trend is downward; but the Eurostat data only loosely matches the China Customs data. Balance of payments statistics are subject to large ”errors and omissions”.

Note: In the chart below, Eurostat data is illustrated in the series “EU imports from China”, while China Customs data is illustrated in the series “Exports to EU”.

So who’s right? Eurostat or China Customs? Part of the differentiation involves the timing of the FX moves (remember I use the monthly averages); but that is unlikely the full story here. I’d err on the side of Eurostat, and notice the trend looks pretty bad no matter who’s estimating the trade data.

Rebecca Wilder

cross posted with  The Wilder View…Economonitors

Exchange rate pegs getting a new look?

This article at Voxeu reminded me that exchange rate pegs might come back in vogue. Voxeu has an article on the “trilemma” of ’emerging’ economies:

Do sterilised interventions allow countries a way around the fundamental trilemma of international finance by providing them with a means of systematically affecting exchange rates independent of their monetary policies? Japan, Switzerland, and China provide some lessons…

The fundamental trilemma of international finance maintains that a country cannot simultaneously peg an exchange rate, maintain an independent monetary policy, and permit free cross-border financial flows (Feenstra and Taylor 2008). At best, only two of the three are feasible.

Lifted from a note, Rebecca Wilder writes in an informal e-mail:

I found it rather difficult to read. But this idea of trilemma is not broadly applicable to developed markets except Switzerland – they did address that. I don’t know, the one thing that I do notice, is that the trade ‘imbalances’ are not really moving back into ‘balance’ neither in Europe nor globally. Thus, something’s gotta give at some point; I suspect that it’ll be exchange rate pegs.

I side with China on this one

by Rebecca Wilder

Yes, the renminbi (RMB) is closer to fair value. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu states:

“Our currency, the RMB, has appreciated more than 20 percent against the U.S. dollar since July 2005, when China moved to a floating exchange rate regime,” Ma said. Before 2005, the RMB was pegged to the U.S. dollar at a fixed rate.

“The RMB exchange rate has drawn close to a reasonable and balanced level, given the international balance of payments and the market supply and demand for foreign exchange,” Ma said.

The New York Times asserts that China’s currency is undervalued by 25%-40%. The NY Times, like many politicians and media channels, is entirely too obsessed with China’s exchange rate; they fail to understand that economic fundamentals are changing.

Contrary to popular belief, the level of the renminbi has become rather inconsequential to Chinese trade flows. Why? Because despite the fact that the renminbi has been pegged against the dollar since July of 2008, imports are surging.

The chart above illustrates the 3-month annualized growth rate in exports and imports and the renminbi valued against the US dollar. I use the 3-month annualized rate, rather than the year/year rate, to remove the strong base effects from the drop-off in trade last year.

The first thing to notice is that while export growth is indeed strong, “business as usual” in China, import growth is surely breaking trend. The 3-month annualized growth rate of imports – a good proxy for domestic demand – averaged 117% annualized growth per month from April (when it turned positive) to December 2009. Compared to this period in 2006, annualized import growth is up almost 80 percentage-points, while that for exports is up just 5 percentage-points (76.2% average 3-month annualized growth in exports May-December 2009 vs. 71.7% in 2006).

It’s hard to argue that the Chinese currency is so “undervalued” if the import response is this strong.

Another myth is that China is running large current account surpluses. Given the chart above, it won’t surprise you to know that China’s current account has dropped markedly since late 2008.

The thing is: since prices in developed economies have dropped relative to those in key emerging markets (i.e., China), real exchange rates are coming back in-line with a s0-called equilibrium. Therefore, the renminbi, by definition, is closer to whatever an equilibrium would be, despite the fact that it is fixed. Thus, like Ma Zhaoxu says, it’s at a “reasonable” value.

Rebecca Wilder