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China's forex reserves larger than those of G7 combined

June 3rd, 2008 11 comments

Today’s Xinhua article brings to our attention that China’s forex reserves have ballooned to $1.76 trillion as of the end of April. To put this number in perspective: it is about 15% of the US annual economic output.

Before people get carried away, allow me to explain what the forex reserves is not: it is definitely not the government’s money, so there is no sense in talking about the government spending it. It is also not some kind of surplus money sitting around with no purpose. The forex reserves is part of the collateral that backs RMB-denominated debt obligations of China, and that includes all Chinese money and government bonds.

According to this Xinhua article, which quotes AFP, which got its information from a “Chinese media source” (got it?), China’s forex reserves increased by $74.5 billion in the month of April, or $100 million per hour. (The article and all the English ones that copy it say $10 million, but they all did their math wrong!)

China’s (mainland) forex reserves is followed in size by Japan’s at $1 trillion, Russia’s at $548 billion, India’s at $316 billion, and Taiwan’s at $287 billion. Of course, only Japan is part of the G7 in this group, so it is an exercise for the reader to figure out how much the remaining 6 of the G7 have.

A large forex reserve gives currency stability and can be a defense of a country’s credit-worthiness. On the other hand, its rapid increase adds to the inflationary pressure in China. Besides trade surplus and foreign investments, nobody has a good idea for where all this extra money is coming from — from Chinese expats, perhaps? I know many of them have sent money back as the RMB rises something like 8% a year against the USD. (On a side note, isn’t it interesting that the shrill rhetoric of Congress to make China revalue the RMB or face punitive tariffs has all but vanished…)

Something to ponder, where is this all headed?