Opinion / Xin Zhiming

China’s headache in cutting forex reserves

By Xin Zhiming ( Updated: 2014-05-19 14:51

China may have lost the best opportunity to reduce its colossal amounts of foreign exchange reserves.

By 1996, its reserves were $100 billion; they exceeded $1 trillion by late 2006 and doubled to reach $2 trillion by mid-2009; they further grew to more than $3 trillion by 2011.

As they continue to increase, the reserves are set to exceed $4 trillion by the end of this year.

Despite the large scale of reserves, experts generally hold that it is in the best interest of China if it can keep the reserves at around $1 trillion.

As the reserves increased rapidly in recent years, economists have long suggested that the authorities figure out solutions to withhold their growth. But it wasn’t until 2013 that senior central officials admitted that the scale of reserves could be detrimental to China’s economic interest.

Premier Li Keqiang said during his recent visit to Africa that the large pool of foreign exchange reserves has become quite a serious burden for China since it can stoke inflation as the central bank issues home currency to purchase foreign exchanges.

Inflation is not the only problem created by the increasing reserves. Given the sheer size of the reserves, it is very difficult for China to make proper investment in global markets. Now its level of returns is only about 3 percent.

Considering the de facto depreciation of the US dollar, China could be incurring huge losses from its holding of foreign exchanges. For example, in terms of the power to purchase oil (which has risen by more than three times over prices in early 2000s), the real value of China’s current foreign exchange reserves could have been much less than its face value.

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