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China's foreign reserves post surprise rise in March

China's foreign exchange reserves rose slightly in March to $3.21 trillion, the central bank said on Thursday, the first monthly increase since November as cooling expectations of U.S. interest rate hikes eased pressure on the yuan.

The level of reserves beat a Reuters poll forecast of a drop to $3.18 trillion, and compared with $3.20 trillion in February.

Teh Eng Koon | AFP | Getty Images

The mild increase leaves reserves still down sharply from their peak of $3.99 trillion in June 2014.

Capital outflows from China have moderated, according to recent official data, in part helped by expectations the Fed will slow the pace of interest rate rises this year. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen's comments last week that the U.S. central bank should proceed cautiously in adjusting policy have caused a broad-based retreat in the dollar.

Central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan said last month recent data showed a significant easing in capital outflows and short-term speculative money leaving China was not worrisome.

The central bank reported its net foreign exchange sales fell sharply to 228 billion yuan ($35.2 billion) in February, down from 644.5 billion yuan in January, a sign of decreased government intervention in support of the yuan.

To be sure, analysts believe that China still faces a tough job keeping the yuan stable, particularly at a time of persistent supply glut and tepid domestic demand. A future U.S. rate hike remains a risk for more disruption to the world's second-largest economy.

The People's Bank of China has moved to curb currency speculation since late December 2015, including limiting yuan-based funds' overseas investments and implementing a reserve requirement ratio on offshore banks' domestic yuan deposits.

The foreign exchange regulator is also studying the introduction of a currency trading Tobin tax, part of efforts to penalise speculators.

China's gold reserves stood at 57.79 million fine troy ounces at the end of March, up from 57.5 million at the end of February, the central bank said on Thursday.

China began updating its reserve figures on a monthly basis in June 2015. Prior to that, the reserve figures were not updated regularly.

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