SHANGHAI, Jan 12 (Reuters) - China's yuan firmed against the U.S. dollar on Friday, on course for its fifth straight winning week, buoyed by rising corporate dollar sales and sustained strength in the country's exports. China's December exports rose 10.9 percent from a year earlier, beating analysts' forecast for a 9.1 percent increase, but cooling from a robust 12.3 percent gain in November, official data showed on Friday. A broadly weaker dollar, which fell against its major trading partners on Friday due to soft economic data, also bolstered the yuan. U.S. producer prices in December fell for the first time in nearly 1-1/2 years, data showed on Thursday, which could temper expectations that inflation will accelerate in 2018. Jobless claims also rose for the fourth week. The Chinese currency is maintaining upward momentum despite huge volatility over the week after the central bank's move to tweak its midpoint mechanism and a media report quoting sources on China winding down its massive holdings of U.S. Treasuries.
China's currency regulator later dismissed the report saying it may be "fake" news, and clarified it was diversifying its foreign exchange reserves in order to safeguard their value. Prior to market opening on Friday, the People's Bank of China set the yuan midpoint rate at 6.4932 per dollar, breaching the key 6.5 per dollar level, and firmer than the previous fix of 6.5147 on Thursday. In the spot market, the onshore yuan opened at 6.4920 per dollar and was changing hands at 6.4820 at midday, 158 pips firmer than the previous late session close and 0.17 percent stronger than the midpoint. If the yuan ends the late night session at the midday level, it would have strengthened 0.1 percent against the dollar. It firmed around 0.28 percent last week. Traders said the upward pressure on the yuan remained "heavy" on Friday morning due to rising orders from corporate clients to sell the greenback. Multiple traders said some companies who signed forward contracts a year ago to buy dollars had to liquidate the positions to stop losses amid sharp gains in the yuan in 2017. The Chinese yuan strengthened 6.8 percent against the dollar last year, the biggest gain in nine years, reversing three straight years of depreciations. Economists are mixed over the yuan's fortunes after recent volatility. Robin Xing, economist at Morgan Stanley, told reporters at a news conference on Thursday he believed that policymakers' aim to keep the yuan stable against its basket while the currency may slightly weaken to 6.7 per dollar by the end of the year. Economists at ING have forecast the yuan will hold its strength and trade at 6.30 per dollar by year-end. "At best, the PBOC will be willing to tolerate a bit of appreciation pressure in the renminbi this year and in a weakening dollar environment, we expect USD/CNY to gently nudge lower to 6.30 by year-end," they said in a note on Friday. China's adjustment to the way it sets the reference rate for its tightly managed currency, suspending a tool for fine-tuning the exchange rate, is a fresh warning to would-be speculators that gives the yuan scope to retreat after a year of heady gains. The Thomson Reuters/HKEX Global CNH index, which tracks the offshore yuan against a basket of currencies on a daily basis, stood at 95.7, weaker than the previous day's 95.72. The global dollar index fell to 91.838 from the previous close of 91.852. The offshore yuan was trading 0.07 percent weaker than the onshore spot at 6.4864 per dollar. Offshore one-year non-deliverable forwards contracts (NDFs), considered the best available proxy for forward-looking market expectations of the yuan's value, traded at 6.6195, 1.91 percent weaker than the midpoint. One-year NDFs are settled against the midpoint, not the spot rate.
The yuan market at 0417 GMT:
Item Current Previous Change PBOC midpoint 6.4932 6.5147 0.33% Spot yuan 6.482 6.4978 0.24% Divergence from -0.17%
Spot change YTD 7.17% Spot change since 2005 27.68%
Item Current Previous Change Thomson 95.7 95.72 0.0
Reuters/HKEX CNH index
Dollar index 91.838 91.852 0.0
*Divergence of the dollar/yuan exchange rate. Negative number indicates that spot yuan is trading stronger than the midpoint. The People's Bank of China (PBOC) allows the exchange rate to rise or fall 2 percent from official midpoint rate it sets each morning.
OFFSHORE CNH MARKET
Instrument Current Difference
Offshore spot yuan 6.4864 -0.07% * Offshore 6.6195 -1.91%
*Premium for offshore spot over onshore
**Figure reflects difference from PBOC's official midpoint, since non-deliverable forwards are settled against the midpoint. .
(Reporting by Winni Zhou and John Ruwitch; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)