Trading in Chinese yuan soars

The world's second-biggest economy has had its currency promoted to the most-traded currency club. The Chinese yuan is now traded three more times on global markets compared to its popularity in 2010, according to a new survey from the Bank for International Settlements.

How significant is the news for China - and the rest of us?

Yuan standard?

Back in 2010 the BIS estimates that $34bn of Chinese yuan was traded every day. That figure now ticks closer to $120bn, propelling the yuan from 17th place to ninth place in 2013, kicking out the Swedish krona from the top ten en route.

What does this tell us? That the Chinese leadership want the yuan to become a proper international currency in its own right, fully tradeable. But there's a difference between the yuan's current strengthened state, and being a full, tradeable currency - which won't come until it's perceived as a genuine reserve currency.

That prestigious prize may not come for many years, realistically, though yuan convertibility is being trialled in Chinese free trade zones such as Qianhai, close to Hong Kong. And though impressive might the yuan's recent rise be, it's still a minnow compared to the might of the euro, yen and dollar. For now.

Currency converter

Greenback peril

There are some concerns the Chinese yuan is overvalued. The Economist claims the yuan has appreciated more than 20% on the Japanese yen since last winter when the Japanese Government dramatically opened the cash-easing taps. The value of Chinese labour has also been climbing - sharply.

One irony of China's reserve currency ambitions is that its goal carries consequences - stern ones. Over time, the US was able to promote its own reserve currency status by digging itself deep into debt, thanks in part to demand for its currency, but also simultaneously cutting confidence in the US dollar.

Now, the richest country on earth borrows from far, far poorer nations. Also, were the Chinese allowed to invest their stupendous amounts of savings outside China, thanks to a freeing up of the yuan, you could expect a significant downturn in the Chinese stock market. Perhaps a major crash. Unemployment would likely soar.

Reserve currency status, depending on how it's played, can be a two-sided coin.