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UPDATE 1-Yuan inches up, market shrugs off China's lower 2019 GDP growth target

target@ (Adds details and comments, updates prices) SHANGHAI, March 5 (Reuters) - China's yuan inched up against the U.S. dollar on Tuesday, on lingering optimism a deal ending the trade war with the United States will be reached and as the market shrugged off Beijing's announcement of a lower economic growth target for 2019. At the opening of the annual National People's Congress (NPC) session, Premier Li Keqiang gave a growth target of 6.0-6.5 percent, compared with about 6.5 percent last year, and said billions of dollars of cuts in taxes and fees will be delivered to shore up an economy growing at its slowest pace in almost 30 years. Chinese financial markets, including currency, stocks and bonds, barely moved on the announcements, which were largely in line with expectations. Prior to market opening, the People's Bank of China (PBOC) set the yuan midpoint rate at 6.6998 per dollar, 51 pips or 0.08 percent firmer than the previous fix of 6.7049. The onshore spot yuan opened at 6.7055 per dollar and was changing hands at 6.7023 at 0529 GMT, 78 pips firmer than the previous late session close. A trader at a Chinese bank said the yuan was likely to stay around the 6.7 per dollar level for some time before its direction became clear. Another trader noted that the yuan is "usually very stable" during the NPC meetings every March. This year, he added, the market will be looking "for any solid progress in the Sino-U.S. trade negotiations". Chinese authorities usually keep the currency stable during major economic and political events. In the work report to the NPC, the government reiterated that it would maintain the yuan's basic stability and keep it at a "reasonable" level this year. Ken Cheung, senior Asian FX strategist at Mizuho Bank in Hong Kong, said China "could manage to preserve RMB stability in response to (U.S. President Donald) Trump's request to include RMB stability into the potential trade deal". He said he is maintaining his call for a stable yuan this year, targeting 6.68 per dollar at year-end. Frances Cheung, head of macro strategy at Westpac, said the equilibrium levels should not be static. "As such, a 'stable yuan' does not automatically translate into RMB strength," she said. That view was more or less backed the country's state planner, who said in a separate report that China will increase flexibility in the yuan this year. Chinese Commerce Minister Zhong Shan told media on Tuesday that trade talks with the United States have been difficult but that working teams from both countries are continuing with their negotiations. On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he thought the two nations were "on the cusp" of a deal to end their trade war. The offshore yuan was trading at 6.7033 per dollar as of 0529 GMT.

The yuan market at 0529 GMT:

ONSHORE SPOT:

Item Current Previous ChangePBOC midpoint 6.6998 6.7049 0.08%Spot yuan 6.7023 6.7101 0.12%Divergence from 0.04%

midpoint*

Spot change YTD 2.55%Spot change since 2005 23.49%

revaluation

Key indexes:

Item Current Previous ChangeThomson 95.87 95.91 0.0

Reuters/HKEX CNH index

Dollar index 96.729 96.682 0.1

*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

from onshore

Offshore spot yuan 6.7033 -0.01%*Offshore 6.7189 -0.28%

non-deliverable forwards

**

*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 Richard Borsuk & Shri Navaratnam)