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12 Oct 2012

Week in China: Ready for the RMB?

Hong Kong is home to the vast majority of cross-border trade settlement in the Chinese currency, the largest pool of RMB deposits and almost all of the offshore bond issuance. But other financial centres are positioning themselves for a piece of the action as market-makers in quoting renminbi against US dollars and other currencies, as well as offering a wider range of RMB-related financial products. Here’s an overview of a few of the contenders.

The United States is China's single largest market, yet take up of the RMB in invoicing or payment by US businesses has lagged behind other major markets

Singapore

Supporters argue the city is a springboard into the Asean region, as well as being a hub for wealth management and commodities trading and hosting the head offices of a number of multinationals operating across the Asia-Pacific region.

Sceptics ask whether Singapore has the scale or experience to compete in the same Asian time zone as Hong Kong? And why give Singapore a boost when the Chinese have high hopes for Shanghai developing into an Asian financial centre?

However, there was news in July that a Chinese clearing bank would soon be appointed in Singapore, providing a direct line to the People’s Bank of China and ending the reliance on an offshore quota assigned from Hong Kong’s daily limit.

Taiwan

Currently only overseas banking units in Taiwan are allowed to undertake RMB business and even then the transactions are  processed through banks in Hong Kong. But an announcement in August suggested that Taiwanese domestic banks will soon be able to conduct RMB trading – something both London and Singapore are unable to do.

Taiwan’s geographic and cultural ties with mainland China also make it a promising candidate for more of an RMB role, but as with Singapore, it is in the same time zone as Hong Kong, so anyone wanting RMB exposure can get it in a much larger market nearby.

London

The city hopes to become the ‘Western’ hub in the internationalisation of the RMB, cashing in on its time-zone advantages and its legal and regulatory framework. George Osborne, Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, has said: “It’s natural that when Chinese banks look westwards they choose London … given its pre-eminence as a financial centre and its expertise in areas such as foreign exchange and bond issuance.”  However, he warned: “We are not prepared to let anyone steal  a march on us in terms of new products and new markets.”

New York

The United States is China’s single largest market, yet take up of the RMB in invoicing or payment by US businesses has lagged behind other major markets. The time difference means one is sleeping while the other is working and New York’s case is also undermined by the consistent undercurrent of Sino-US trade tensions. In contrast to British enthusiasm, few American policymakers seem to push as publicly for New York. So the city looks some distance from joining Hong Kong, London and others on the offshore hub list.

This article has been edited from a longer piece in the Week in China Focus issue on the RMB.

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