China bears like Kyle Bass claimed victory last year after bets that the Chinese yuan would weaken paid off handsomely – particularly if they were supercharged by leverage. Hopefully, for their sake, yuan decided to lock in those gains early this year. Because since January, China’s currency has whipsawed higher, reversing most of its 2016 depreciation as the US dollar has endured a period of broad weakness, and Chinese policy makers have turned their attention to managing the currency’s valuation against a basket of currencies.
But Mark Hart, who, like Bass is a Texas-based fund manager, and who built his bear case against China on the theory that the PBOC would opt for a series of one-off devaluations in the yuan, instead of allowing it to gradually depreciate, which would be tantamount to a policy error.
Here’s more from a post on Hart’s outlook that we published last year:
“Hart believes that the Chinese crawling devaluation is an error as it carries with its the latent threat of much more devaluation in the future, thus encouraging even more outflows, which in turn forces China to sell even more reserves, which destabilizes the economy even further, forcing even more devaluation and so on.
Instead, a one-off devaluation would allow policy makers to “draw a line in the sand” at a more appropriate level for the yuan, easing pressure on China’s foreign-exchange reserves and removing an incentive for capital outflows, according to Hart, who’s been betting against the currency since at least 2011. He adds that China should devalue before its $3.3 trillion hoard of reserves shrinks much further, he said, because the country can still convince markets it’s acting from a position of strength.”
According to Hart, while a devaluation this year would be “jarring” and may initially accelerate capital outflows, it would ultimately put China in a stronger position. He said the country could explain the move by saying it would put the yuan at a level more reflective of market forces and allow the currency to catch up with declines in international peers.
However, the 50% devaluation that Hart had been anticipating never materialized. So, after seven years, Bloomberg is reporting that Hart has (pun intended ) had a change of heart after spending $240 million on his losing bet against the currency, which nearly cost him his sanity.
Hart is now taking the other side of the trade, joining the ranks of Bridgewater Capital’s Ray Dalio and other yuan bulls:
“Mark Hart spent seven years and $240 million waiting on a crash in China’s currency.
He lost sleep. He lost clients. He damn near lost his sanity.
And now he’s lost his conviction: Hart, who called for a more than 50 percent yuan devaluation last year, has turned bullish on China and its currency.”
According to Bloomberg, Hart’s dedication to his short-yuan position left employees demoralized at his Fort Worth, Texas fund. Hart claims that his investing thesis was sound. His biggest mistake? Hart says he was “too early” in putting on the trade.
“His reversal hasn’t come easily. From his base in Fort Worth, Texas, the hedge fund manager spent countless nights on the line to Hong Kong, parsing market news and exchange rates. At times, the stress took a toll on Hart personally and left his employees demoralized.
‘I always thought we had a good risk-reward trade on, but we made a number of mistakes, including being way too early,’ Hart, who started the yuan bet after predicting both the U.S. subprime mortgage bust and the European debt crisis, said in a telephone interview. ‘And now the world has changed.’”
Hart now believes that G-20 leaders tacitly conspired to a “Plaza Accord”-type agreement to stanch the dollar’s appreciation while putting a floor under the yuan last February during a G-20 summit in Shanghai.
“In cool hindsight, the 45-year-old founder of Corriente Advisors sees last year’s Group of 20 summit in Shanghai as a key turning point. Like many investors, Hart suspects the meeting resulted in a tacit agreement among world leaders to prevent the yuan from tumbling. He calls it China’s “whatever it takes” moment – when policy makers resolved to prop up the currency at any cost.”
The agreement has tremendously benefited China, Hart says.
“‘China now has the breathing room it needs to either temporarily stave off a slowdown with fiscal and monetary stimulus, or reform, grow and upgrade itself into the world’s largest developed economy,’ Hart said.”
Regardless of whether Hart’s “conspiracy theory” is accurate, China has clearly succeeded in stabilizing the exchange rate. The yuan ended a three-year slide in late December and has rallied almost 7 percent in 2017. China’s central bank strengthens its daily reference rate for onshore yuan for a ninth day on Thursday, the longest run of increases since January 2011. The PBOC raised the yuan reference rate by 0.06% to 6.5269 per dollar, extending the strengthening streak since Aug. 28 to 2%. Meanwhile, the offshore yuan surged, sending the USDCNH below 6.50 for the first time since May 3, 2016.
Even at its weakest point, the yuan never weakened enough for the options that Hart originally purchased in 2009 to pay off. His dedicated China funds, which had fixed lifespans, bought options that were designed to deliver one of two outcomes. According to Bloomberg, a massive payoff in the event of a currency crash, or a near total wipeout if a major devaluation failed to occur.