China signals that it will continue to weaken its currency as the trade war rages

BEIJING – China signaled Thursday that it could continue to weaken its currency, a move that threatens to escalate the trade war with the United States again.

China's central bank on Thursday put the center of renminbi's daily trading range above 7 to the US dollar for the first time in more than a decade. Pulling into force, financial markets say Beijing expects the yuan to continue to weaken against the dollar, perhaps well past the 7-to-dollar level.

It's likely to provoke more buzz from the Trump administration. A weaker currency helps Chinese factories offset the higher cost of Trump's tariffs when selling their goods to the United States.

The move from the People's Bank of China itself will not change the economy of the Sino-American trade relationship. China put the currency's midpoint on the US dollar at 7.0039 on Thursday, compared to the 6.9996 point it set on Wednesday. China controls close trade in its currency, with the center point determining the center of a narrow range where the yuan can strengthen or weaken during the day.

Such a hair's breadth happens every day in global currency markets. The renminbi is already trading just over $ 7, a psychologically important level that broke on Monday in China.

But China's action suggesting that it expects the currency to weaken further will place more emphasis on the central bank's daily mid-point in the coming weeks to see if China will weaken the currency – perhaps to 7.5 or 8 yuan to the dollar – to it the point where it would significantly begin to weaken the impact of US tariffs. A higher figure versus a dollar means a weaker currency.

The move could cause central banks in the Asia-Pacific region to explore cuts in interest rates. On Wednesday, three central banks in the region cut interest rates in a move that was often seen as a defensive attempt to tie up their economies as the trade war threatened global growth. Central banks in India, Thailand and New Zealand cut interest rates in a cascade of surprise movements that offset foreign exchange markets.

"If the yuan, or when the yuan falls significantly more, we should expect more monetary relief to offset that is a deflationary impetus for many Asian countries and to restore some competitiveness," said George Magnus, an attorney at Oxford University 39; s China Center, referring to China's currency with the other name.

The Trump administration labeled China a currency manipulator on Monday in the United States. But many economists and investors believe that China is in fact loosening control of its currency.

China held the currency weak a decade ago to help its exporters, and long left complaints from the United States and Europe. But in recent years, China's currency has strengthened to a level believed to be close to fair value. Today, as China's economic growth has slowed down and the trade war has reduced the manufacturing sector, many economists believe the country's currency should weaken against the dollar.

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