TAIPEI, Taiwan (TheStreet) -- As if things weren't bad enough, China is now torn between bailing out its stock market and propping up its slowing economy.

The reason it can't do both: its faltering currency.

If China allows the yuan to weaken, as it's doing now, that helps manufacturers maximize profits from exports. But a weaker currency makes the cratering stock market even less attractive to foreign investors.

"When China fixes the [renminbi]-to-dollar rate at lower levels, many in the market take it as a signal that that rate will continue to depreciate," according to the American think tank Brookings Institution in a Jan. 6 brief. "China's officials may in fact want some trade-weighted depreciation in order to stimulate their slowing economy."

So for now, the economy wins out. China's central bank devalued the yuan by 0.5% on Jan. 6 and is expected to push it even lower in the near term. Industrial production remains crucial to China's growth despite the government's efforts to transition to a more a consumer-oriented economy.

The weaker currency has helped consumer electronics giants including Haier (HRELF) and Lenovo (LNVGY) . But Chinese stocks have plunged 10% so far this year, rattling financial markets around the globe. Foreign investors in particular have little reason to hold Chinese stocks because any profits will get slashed when converted back to U.S. dollars.

Devaluation also reflects economic fragility, which scares investors from Shanghai to New York because much of the world's business is linked to China's $10 trillion-plus GDP.

Foreign funds warily watching the yuan would include the Morgan Stanley China A Share Fund (CAF - Get Report) , db X-trackers Harvest CSI 300 China A-Shares Fund (ASHR - Get Report) and the Van Eck Market Vectors ChinaAMC A-Share ETF (PEK - Get Report) . Beijing bars individual foreign investors from directly investing in its "A" share market.

"It's tough to forecast or handicap where they're going," said Ed Lopez, Van Eck's marketing director in New York. "We hope they continue to liberalize. It would just make it easier to invest in their country."

Weaker currency also hurts foreign firms that sell to China and source products offshore. Examples are Starbucks (SBUX - Get Report) and the luxury brand Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMUY) .

But China hasn't forgotten about the financial markets, either. "The (yuan) downtrend will stabilize in the near term, given improvements in China's economic data and a discontinuation of benchmark exchange rate cuts by China's central bank," the KGI economist predicted.

From Beijing's viewpoint, part of the devaluation is pure economics. Slowing GDP growth, monetary easing and capital outflows have pressured the yuan lower, Taipei-based KGI Securities Investment Advisory's economist Andrew Tsai said.

The yuan hit a five-year low Jan. 6 against the U.S. dollar. China also dropped the rate -- intentionally rather than via market forces because it's a state-controlled currency -- for three straight days in August. As of Thursday, one U.S. dollar could buy 6.58 yuan.

China is letting the currency weaken just three months after it excited markets by giving a nod to letting free market forces determine exchange rates.

Since the mid-2015 stock market meltdown, investors had begun assuming China would go all out to support financial markets to help capitalize thousands of innovative, non-polluting smaller private firms that officials hope will lead economic transformation. 

But the government has never turned its back on factory work, hobbled as it is by offshoring and rising costs. Manufacturing still totals about 43% of GDP, while the pillar Beijing cares about more, consumption, hasn't quite picked up.

China's falling interest rates indicate further support for traditional industry to weather economic growth that posted a 26-year-low of 6.9% in 2015.

Moody's predicted this week "persistent excess capacity and deflation in parts of the industry sector" with "pressure on profitability and debt affordability" throughout 2016.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.