With Donald Trump less than two weeks from taking office, China's central bank continues to prop up the value of the yuan without success, adding fuel to the president-elect's threat to punish China for manipulating its currency.
"The drama being played out in the currency market reads like a Hollywood script," Carl Weinberg, chief economist at High Frequency Economics, wrote in a note to clients Monday.
Trump has threatened to slap tariffs on Chinese goods sold in America unless the U.S. gets a "better deal" with Beijing, including a reversal in the recent slide in the value of the yuan. A weaker Chinese currency has the effect of making Chinese goods more competitive in global markets.
There seems to be little doubt that China in recent weeks has been trying to manipulate its currency. But the moves are apparently aimed at strengthening the yuan, not weakening it.
Though a weaker local currency may help Chinese exporters, it has also sparked a wave of capital flight out of the country that Chinese officials have been struggling to contain.
To push for a "better deal," Trump has pledged to label China a "currency manipulator," a presidential declaration that would set in motion negotiations by the U.S. Treasury Department with the offending country.
While Trump has pledged to make that declaration on "day one," it's not clear that his choice for Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, will be confirmed by the inauguration on Jan. 20. Even if confirmed, it's also not clear exactly what the Treasury would ask China's central bank to do, given that it has already begin intervening to support the yuan.