Tag Archives: dollar shortage

The Nuclear Option: Chopping off Hong Kong from the Dollar System

China and America have begun the fraught business of disentangling their financial systems. Chinese firms with shares listed in New York have rushed to float in Hong Kong, too, after the White House signalled they are not welcome on Wall Street….But now Hong Kong itself, the world’s third-biggest international financial centre, has become a geopolitical flashpoint. Its unique role as the conduit between global capital markets and China’s inward-looking financial system means that both sides must tread carefully.

On May 28, 2020 China said it would enact a new national-security law for Hong Kong, undermining the formulation of “one country, two systems” in place since 1997, under which the territory is supposed to be governed until 2047. In response, America has said it may downgrade the legal privileges it grants Hong Kong, which treat it as autonomous from China

Hong Kong’s place in the world depends on having the rule of law, a trusted reputation and seamless access to Western financial markets. Other Chinese cities have big stock exchanges: shares listed in Shanghai and Shenzhen are together worth a lot more than those in Hong Kong. But neither has fair courts, an independent central bank, free movement of capital or a mix of Western and Chinese firms. These foundations are the basis for $9.7trn of cross-border financial claims, such as loans, that are booked in the territory. Hong Kong is also where mainland Chinese firms and banks go to deal in the dollar, the world’s dominant currency. Some $10trn of dollar transactions flowed through Hong Kong’s bank-to-bank payments system last year.

Until recently, conventional wisdom held that Hong Kong’s position would be assured for 20-30 years, because it would take that long for China either to upgrade its markets to Western standards or to become so powerful that it could impose mainland practices, and the yuan, on the rest of the world. But the trade war, a year of street protests and China’s iron-fisted response to them raise new questions about Hong Kong’s durability. Bullying from Beijing erodes the sense that it is autonomous. And there is an outside chance that America could impose sanctions or other restrictions that would stop some Hong Kong officials, firms or banks from using dollars….. America’s might bring into question whether money parked in Hong Kong is still fully fungible with money in the global financial system. If these worries spread, they could destabilise Hong Kong and cause a financial shock in China and well beyond it.

The good news is that so far there is no sign of capital flight. Hong Kong’s vast deposit base has been stable in recent weeks, say its bankers. Investors are reassured by its $440bn or so mountain of foreign reserves and a long record of capable financial management. The rush of Chinese listings will bring in new cash and drum up business in the city….Nonetheless, for China the prudent policy is to try to speed up the development of the mainland’s financial capabilities so that it is less exposed to potential American punishment…Italso means another big push to boost the global role of the yuan and reduce China’s dependence on the dollar…

Excerpts from Hong Kong: Conduit’s End, Economist, June 6, 2020

Collapsing States: Burundi

Fuel shortages have paralysed the small central African nation of Burundi, threatening further damage to an economy already moribund after years of political violence and raising questions about the role of the country’s only oil importer….

The shortages, which forced government to introduce rationing on May 16, have paralysed commerce and caused food prices to jump, raising the prospect of economic migration. More than 400,000 people have already fled Burundi into the volatile central African region.  Anti-corruption campaigners said fuel shortages became severe after Burundian company Interpetrol Trading Ltd. received the lions’ share of dollars allocated by the central bank to import fuel.

“The oil sector is undermined by favouritism and lack of transparency, because the rare hard currency available in the central bank reserves is given to one oil importer,”   The central bank declined to answer Reuters’ questions….

Interpetrol is now the sole oil importer and runs all fuel storage tanks in the country, said an industry source.  Banzubaze said there was “no link” between Interpetrol’s shareholders and any member of government.

A 2011 US State Department report described attempts by senior government officials to pressurise judges into dropping a corruption case against the company, owned by brothers Munir and Tariq Bashir. …Government officials blame dollar shortages on aid cuts donors imposed after President Pierre Nkurunziza ran for a third term in 2015, triggering a wave of political violence.

“These days, fuel importers don’t get enough dollars to bring in petroleum products,” said Daniel Mpitabakana, government’s director of fuel management….The street exchange rate is 2,600 francs to the dollar, although it is just over 1,700 to the dollar at the central bank. Only the central bank can receive dollar deposits and allocate dollars to businesses…

Burundi has also been battered by drought and almost two years of political instability. Hundreds of people were killed and hundreds of thousands were forced to flee during political violence, which sometimes still erupts in low-level clashes.

Burundi paralysed by fuel shortages, Reuters, Wednesday, 31 May 2017