NEW YORK (TheStreet) -Ahead of the US-China summit next week, China continues its efforts to internationalize yuan trading and move towards potential full convertibility.State-controlled Bank of China announced it will allow U.S. customers to trade the yuan or CNY, expanding the offshore market beyond Hong Kong. A Wall Street Journal interview quotes Bank of China official in NY saying, "We're preparing for the day when renminbi becomes fully convertible," adding that his bank's goal is to become "the renminbi clearing center in America." In 2010, China allowed CNY trading in Hong Kong. Bank of China limits the amount of CNY that can be converted by U.S.-based individuals to $4,000 per day, but there is no limit now on the amount that can be converted by US-based businesses if engaged in international trade. However, there are no restrictions on the ability of US customers to convert CNY back into USD. China is moving the process along very gradually in a tightly controlled manner, but the trend towards more flexibility and openness is clearly being seen. It seems that no matter what China does, however, it will still come under criticism. As the U.S.-China summit next week approaches, Treasury Secretary Geithner widened his criticism of China policies, saying China needs to reduce unfair subsidies and stop intellectual property theft. Of course, Geithner also talked about China's currency policy, saying that the current rate of appreciation was inadequate. Our view remains that no matter what the U.S. says and does, China will continue to move at the pace of liberalization that's best for China's interests, not for the U.S. We'd note that the process was derailed by the financial crisis, as China pretty much put everything on hold from mid-2008 to mid-2010 in terms of currency moves. The fact that the process has restarted since mid-2010 is more the result of China feeling more comfortable about the global outlook than from U.S. pressure. We fully expect continued CNY appreciation, and note that the yuan has been very strong this week after a weak start the year. We've noted in the past that the yuan often sees outsize gains just before major summits, and so CNY gains are likely to continue over the next week.
Twelve-month NDFs are currently pricing in 2.9% appreciation, but given that we have seen that much over just the last 6 months, we think CNY is likely to gain close to 5% (perhaps more) vs. USD over the next year. PBOC is expected to use a combination of policy rate hikes, reserve requirement hikes, and currency strength to help address inflation, and we note that the last period of significant CNY gains was back in 2007-2008, when fighting inflation was last a priority. One last thought: We are not yet sure how far China is willing to go with FX convertibility, since EM currencies that are freely convertible are the exception and not the rule.