Number Crunching: The Impact of China’s Currency Devaluation
Number Crunching: The Impact of China’s Currency Devaluation
In the grand scheme of things, China’s mid-August currency devaluation spree was a drop in the bucket. Since the Financial Crisis, countries have routinely printed money, kept rates pegged artificially low, and found other ways to get temporary competitive advantages with cheaper currency.
While the People’s Bank of China has made some questionable interventions, China’s currency itself has been pegged to the US dollar officially or unofficially since its early history. With the US dollar climbing wildly against most global currencies since mid-2014, the yuan climbed along with it. China’s currency appreciated against all other major Asian currencies, which erased the country’s manufacturing cost advantage and trade surplus. In retrospect, it is almost surprising that they kept the reference rate where it was for this long.
The strong reaction from markets and media was more from the angle that even slightest movement made by China can create a ripple effect on fragile global markets. China, for a better lack of an analogy, is a bull in a china shop. Its economy and currency are seen as important bellwethers and when the PBOC makes an announcement, people listen.
That’s why in mid-summer, markets got volatile in a hurry. China devalued its currency by 1.9% on August 11 and made some smaller changes since then. The country also announced adjustments to how it would calculate its onshore reference rate moving forward.
Today’s infographic looks at the reaction in currency markets in three timeframes after the event: 24 hours, one week, and one month after.
Some currencies, like the euro, appreciated against the Chinese Renminbi right away and maintained that momentum. The euro went up 2.06% in the first day, and then continued to appreciate to 5.73% by the end of 30 days. Others swung back and forth wildly: at first the South African rand was up 0.71%, but then it ended as the biggest loser against the yuan at -4.24% over the course of a month.
Despite the mixed reaction from different currency markets, the reason China did this was clear. The country wanted to promote convergence in its onshore and offshore rates, and it has also been trying to woo the IMF for some time to be included in the IMF’s basket of reserve currencies called Special Drawing Rights. The latter move is a part of China’s posturing to eventually better internationalize the yuan.
As a side benefit of the devaluation, China also gets temporary relief in promoting exports at a cheaper price – though this will only last until the next country takes action in the game of currency war hot potato.
Original graphic by: Inovance
Just 20 Stocks Have Driven S&P 500 Returns So Far in 2023
From Apple to NVIDIA, megacap stocks are fueling S&P 500 returns. The majority of these firms are also investing heavily in AI.
Just 20 Stocks Have Driven Most of S&P 500 Returns
Just 20 firms—mainly AI-related stocks—are propping up the S&P 500 and driving it into positive territory, signaling growing risk in the market.
The above graphic from Truman Du shows which stocks are making up the vast majority of S&P 500 returns amid AI market euphoria and broader market headwinds.
Big Tech Stock Rally
Tech and AI stocks have soared as ChatGPT became a household name in 2023.
The below table shows data from last month, highlighting that just a small collection of companies drove most of the action on the U.S. benchmark index.
|Company Rank||Name||Contribution to S&P 500 Return||Average Weight|
|7||Alphabet (Class A Shares)||0.34%||1.72%|
|8||Alphabet (Class C Shares)||0.31%||1.53%|
|10||Advanced Micro Devices||0.16%||0.39%|
|Top 20 Companies||7.05%||29.17%|
*Based on the Vanguard S&P 500 ETF as of April 11, 2023. Source: Vanguard S&P500 ETF, Bloomberg.
Microsoft invested $10 billion into OpenAI, the creators of ChatGPT. It has also integrated generative AI into its search engine Bing. This large language model is designed specifically to make search capabilities faster, generate text, and perform other automations.
Also of interest is NVIDIA, which is the most valuable chipmaker in America. It sells $10,000 chips called A100s that allow machine learning models to run. These models perform multiple tasks simultaneously to develop neural networks and train AI systems, including OpenAI’s ChatGPT. Companies that are developing AI-related services, such as chatbots or image generation, may use up to thousands of these chips.
Despite being the world’s most valuable company and a key driver of returns, Apple is an outlier among tech giants with no major projects announced in AI (so far).
Implications of Market Divergence
The problem with the strong gains seen in a few select AI-related stocks is that it clouds wider stock market performance.
Without the AI-led rally, the S&P 500 would be returning -1.4%. as of May 17, 2023.
4. AI is fueling the stock market
A handful of stocks are spearheading the S&P 500's impressive 9% rally this year.
Here’s the kicker: if you excluded AI stocks, the S&P 500 would be down over 1% (according to Societe Generale). pic.twitter.com/SME1mJVpoW
— Rowan Cheung (@rowancheung) May 22, 2023
This form of steep divergence, known as market breadth, often signals higher risk in the market.
When more companies experience positive returns it is less risky than a small handful seeing the majority of the gains. Today market breadth is very narrow, and these companies make up over 29% of the entire index’s market capitalization.
How long AI-related firms mask the broader performance of the S&P 500 remains to be seen. A growing number of market pressures, from higher interest rates to banking uncertainty could add further challenges.
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