Dollar Depeg Du Jour: 32-Year Old Hong Kong FX Regime In The Crosshairs

On Monday, we brought you two charts which vividly demonstrated market expectations for the abandonment of more currency pegs in the wake of Kazakhstan’s decision to float the tenge and China's "unexpected" move to devalue the yuan.

As you can see from the following, the market seems to be convinced that Saudi Arabia and UAE, under pressure from falling crude revenue, will ultimately be either unwilling or unable to maintain their dollar pegs (incidentally, the Saudis did succeed in jawboning USDSAR forwards down 125bps on Tuesday): 

Of course no discussion of global dollar pegs and entrenched FX regimes would be complete without mentioning the Hong Kong dollar and as you can see, the 12-month forward chart looks remarkably similar to those shown above:

Needless to say, the dynamic here is complicated by the degree to which Hong Kong is effectively wedded to US monetary policy (which is itself now thoroughly confused), the extent to which HKD has tended to sit at the strong end of the band, economic links to the mainland, exposure to weakening regional currencies via tourism, and expectations of an eventual yuan peg.

Below, for what it’s worth, is some commentary from the sellside.

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From Citi

Our long-standing house view remains that the HKD peg will stay status quo, with an eventual re-peg to RMB when the latter is fully convertible. The LERS has weathered HK through even larger external shocks since 1983, and it is an important sign of stability for businesses in HK, and policymakers of HK and China. The current Linked Exchange Rate System is likely to withstand regional FX moves, but the economy would have to adjust with (1) moderate raw food prices decline with a lag, (2) other second-round price impacts from an overall slower economy, but (3) likely sharper reversals in asset prices appreciation that we have witnessed in recent years (as already started in the equity market, and worries could spread to the property market).

RMB and other regional FX depreciation will make tourist shopping more expensive...It is important to gauge both tourist arrivals and tourists spending trends -- if we start seeing even tourist arrivals fall, then it will be quite worrying, and should force shop rents to fall more broadly and faster.

From BNP

Predictably, Hong Kong’s peg with the USD has, once again, come under scrutiny. On the same day Kazakhstan abandoned control of its exchange rate, one-month implied volatility of HKD options spiked to a ten-year high (Chart 1). 

Periodic bouts of price and pay swings are inevitable, as Hong Kong has effectively delegated the determination of its monetary policy to the US, even when the business cycles of the two economies do not move in tandem. As the Federal Reserve moves ever closer to delivering the first interest rate hike in almost a decade, Hong Kong is condemned to import tighter US monetary policy. In fact, Hong Kong is caught in a pincer movement between a prospective US monetary policy tightening and the continued slowdown and travails of the mainland economy with whom Hong Kong’s economic cycle is increasingly more correlated. Downward pressures on domestic costs and asset prices, including property values, will build, adding to more popular discontent against the peg (Chart 2). 

But painful as the operation of the peg may be in the short term, there remains a distinct lack of alternatives.  

From Barclays

In contrast to other currency pegs, including the VND and SAR, the HKD is not facing depreciation pressures due to the capital outflows but rather the contrary. In fact, over the past year the HKD has been trading near the strong side of the Convertibility Undertaking of 7.75 (Figure 3), despite the rising USD against most majors and EM currencies. Even after the PBoC announced changes to the USDCNY fixing mechanism, after an initial spike spot USDHKD has moved little, although HKD forwards and option vols have moved more sharply in recent days. 

Importantly, unlike the oil producers, Hong Kong does not face the same extent of downward pressures on its current account and fiscal balances due to the collapse in oil and commodity prices. That said, it is likely that Hong Kong will face more downward pressures on business activity and BoP services receipts due to China’s growth slowdown. This raises the question was to whether the link to the USD and the US monetary policy – especially now that the Fed is closer to tightening – remains relevant for the Hong Kong SAR given the growth drag from China.

A depreciating CNY could perhaps make it easier for the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities to change the anchor of the HKD currency peg, although there are few signs that a policy change will happen in the near term. The HKMA has said that pegging to a strong and appreciating CNY would pose downward pressures on Hong Kong’s domestic prices (including wages, consumer prices and property prices), or could lead to structural deflationary pressures.

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Finally, it's worth noting that, back in 2011, Bill Ackman took to a 150-page presentation to explain why betting on an HKD revaluation was a slam dunk.

Bonus: History of the peg via Citi