False China yuan offshore spike blamed on third-party errors

Data providers played a third-party blame game after several sources erroneously showed a sharp spike lower for late Monday U.S. time.

The inaccurate data came just as U.S. President-elect Donald Trump used a Twitter tweet-storm to rail against China for allegedly deliberately weakening its currency.

Some currency data providers were showing late Monday U.S. time that the yuan tumbled, with the dollar fetching as much as 7.49 yuan in overnight trade. That would have been an 8.8 percent rise for the currency pair from the onshore close of 6.8830, according to Reuters data.

Neither Reuters nor Bloomberg data showed the spike. China's central bank did not respond to a faxed inquiry from CNBC.

But the data providers showing the blip pointed to unnamed "third parties" for the error.

ICAP, one of the sources posting the erroneous figures, said in a statement on Tuesday that the data was derived from both internal sources and "several third party feeds."

"ICAP has corrected the price and removed the third party from its feed," the statement said, without naming the third party. ICAP declined to comment further on the third party's identity.

Another data provider, XE, also pointed higher in the data food chain.

"We have a wide array of upstream data sources, several of which provided rates which our algorithms interpreted as a genuine movement in the CNY (Chinese yuan). We have confirmed with our upstream providers that these were inaccurate and have adjusted our rates accordingly," XE said.

A customer holds a 100 Yuan note at a market in Beijing.
Jason Lee | Reuters

It said it wasn't able to provide details of its contributors.

Google had also showed the short-lived blip, and a representative told CNBC on Tuesday that it was a bug.

Google's data chart indicated that the data source was data provider SIX Financial Information. SIX said via email on Tuesday that it was checking with its data provider for the reason it received false data. It declined to name the provider.

The erroneous data had captivated yuan-watchers on social media on Tuesday, eclipsing other concerns about the Chinese currency, such as Trump's election promises of a trade war with the mainland.

"The market is more fixated on an unfiltered pricing 'glitch,' which shows how incredibly sensitive the market watcher is to potential spill-over effects of Trumpenomics," Stephen Innes, senior trader at OANDA, said in a note on Wednesday. "Question the validity of the online prices, in particular through non-transactional resellers of currency data."

To be sure, the yuan has lost ground against the dollar recently.

In the wake of the Trump win, the yuan fell to nearly eight year lows against the dollar, touching its weakest since at least January 2009, during the global financial crisis.

But analysts said the slide had more to do with the dollar's strength, than specific weakness in China's currency. Some noted that, based on currency movements within the trade-weighted basket, policymakers appeared to be supporting the yuan somewhat.

In onshore trade, the dollar was fetching 6.8892 yuan at 12:00 p.m. HK/SIN on Wednesday. Offshore, the dollar was fetching 6.8995 yuan.

On Wednesday, the People's Bank of China fixed the yuan midpoint at 6.8808 against the dollar.

China's central bank does not allow the currency to move more than 2 percent from its daily fixing in onshore trade. While policymakers cannot closely control offshore trade of the currency, it usually remains relatively close to its onshore counterpart.

—By CNBC.Com's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter @LeslieShaffer1

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