by Gwynn Guilford at Quartz
This week’s Chinese stock market implosion has been widely viewed as a reaction to the Chinese government’s devaluing the yuan on Aug. 11—a move many presume was a frenzied bid to lower export prices and strengthen the economy.
This interpretation doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. First, Chinese investors haven’t been investing based on how the economy is doing, but rather, based on what they think the government will do to prop up the market. The crash, termed “Black Monday,” was more likely a reaction to the central bank’s failure over the weekend to announce a widely expected cut to the bank reserve requirement since previous cuts in February and April had boosted stock prices. The government eventually caved andannounced a cut on Tuesday (Aug. 25).
Second, the crash happened nearly two weeks after the devaluation, and the government only let the yuan depreciate by about 3% before swooping in and propping up its value again—which hardly helps exporters since the currency’s value effectively rose some 14% in the last year.
The devaluation probably had more to do with breaking the yuan’s tightly managed peg to the US dollar, an obligation that has been draining the economy of scarce liquidity as capital outflows swell.
Both moves—the government pulling back from its market bailout and the currency devaluation—stem from the same ominous problem: China’s leaders are scrambling to find the money to keep its economy running. To understand the broader forces that led to this predicament, here’s a chart-based explainer tracing its origins:
China used its exchange rate to stoke growth
China has long pegged its currency to the US dollar at an artificially cheap rate. Keeping the yuan cheaper than it should be, even as export revenues and foreign investment gushed in, allowed China