(Updates figures to official close) SHANGHAI, May 31 (Reuters) - The yuan posted its second largest monthly fall on record against the dollar on Tuesday after the central bank softened its midpoint to a 5-year low amid growing expectations of a U.S. interest rate hike as soon as June. The yuan ended May 1.6 percent lower, its biggest monthly drop since it fell 2.7 percent in August 2015 when the central bank devalued the currency. While global investor fears of another sharp "one-off" devaluation of the yuan appear to have eased, they remain concerned about China's foreign exchange policy. Most analysts expect the currency to continue to drift as long as the dollar remains strong and China's economy slows. "The bearish pressure facing the yuan right now comes from the strong performance of the dollar, which is within market expectations," said a trader at a Chinese commercial bank in Shanghai. "Traders and their corporate clients believe this bout of yuan depreciation will not last. Overall, the sentiment is stable." The People's Bank of China on Tuesday set the midpoint rate at 6.579 per dollar prior to the market open, only 0.01 percent weaker than the previous fix of 6.5784 and within market expectations. Spot yuan opened at 6.5801 per dollar and was changing hands at 6.5851 around 4:30 pm (0830 GMT), 0.05 percent softer than the previous close. The market officially closes at 4:30 pm, with the PBOC announcing the close at 6.5846, but there is an evening session that will last until 11:30 pm. Economists at ANZ believe the yuan will end the year at 6.65 to the dollar. "Post a likely June/July Fed rate hike, if the market thinks the next hike may not come so soon, there could be an interim retracement, but the medium term outlook for the RMB remains," they said in a research note last week. Pessimistic bets on the yuan have risen to the largest since early February, according to a Reuters survey of 20 fund managers, currency traders and analysts last week. The yuan's monthly drop in May also exceeded its December decline of 1.5 percent, when the Federal Reserve interest rate hike that month led to a record monthly fall in China's foreign exchange reserves. In recent months, the People's Bank of China has succeeded in staunching capital outflows and pressure on forex reserves, helped in part by waning expectations of a U.S. rate increase at the time. By late trade on Tuesday, the yuan was trading 0.07 percent softer in offshore markets than the onshore spot at 6.5899 per dollar. Offshore one-year non-deliverable forwards contracts , considered the best available proxy for forward-looking market expectations of the yuan's value, traded at 6.7650, 2.75 percent weaker than the midpoint. The yuan market at a glance: ONSHORE: Item Current Previous Change PBOC midpoint 6.579 6.5784 -0.01% Spot yuan 6.5851 6.5815 -0.05% Divergence from 0.09% midpoint* Spot change YTD -1.39% Spot change since 2005 25.69% revaluation *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 6.5899 -0.07% * Offshore 6.765 -2.75% 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 the Shanghai Newsroom; Editing by Sam Holmes and Kim Coghill)
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