China central bank chief economist to leave, switch to academic role: sources

BEIJING (Reuters) - The chief economist at China’s central bank, lured three years ago from the private sector into a tailor-made job to improve communication with markets, is set to move to a related academic post, three people with direct knowledge of the matter said.

FILE PHOTO: A staff member walks in front of the headquarters of the People's Bank of China (PBOC), the central bank, in Beijing, June 25, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo

Ma Jun, 53, whose role has entailed clarifying the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) policy moves - including a surprise yuan devaluation in 2015 - will leave after a transitional period, said one of the people, who was not authorized to speak with the media and requested anonymity.

He will take up a senior position at the Tsinghua PBC School of Finance, the people said, a joint venture between the central bank and Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University.

Ma could not immediately be reached for comment, and the PBOC did not return requests for comment.

The people did not say why Ma was leaving a post that was initially created for him, nor was it immediately clear whether he would be replaced.

But his imminent departure may feed into investor anxiety over a perceived lack of transparency into China’s policy moves, despite pledges by senior PBOC officials to improve the bank’s communication with financial markets.

Ma moved from Deutsche Bank DBKGn.DE to the new post of chief economist in the PBOC's research bureau in April 2014, part of a drive by the central bank to bring in internationally market-savvy professionals as it pushes interest rate liberalization and a more global role for the yuan currency.

Ma has routinely provided insight on monetary and currency policy changes, giving context and details to global investors often puzzled by China’s opaque policy-making process.

In the wake of the 2015 yuan devaluation, Ma sought to play down market fears of a currency war by explaining in a question-and-answer statement emailed to journalists that the move could head off further similar “adjustments”.

The nearly 2 percent devaluation stunned global markets and marked the start of a decline in the yuan CNY=CFXS that included a 6.5 percent drop versus the dollar last year - the biggest annual fall in more than two decades.

This year, however, the yuan has gained more than 3 percent, helped by the dollar’s retreat and China’s capital controls.

Ma has taken part in a series of briefings on policy issues for select foreign media in an effort to get the bank’s message across to global markets.

Earlier this year, he spoke to global investors during PBOC roadshows in Singapore, London and New York to attract foreign interest in China’s bonds.

Ma has also been instrumental in promoting ‘green’ finance as China seeks to mitigate the environmental damage that has come with its rapid economic growth.


Ma, who holds a doctorate in economics from Georgetown University in Washington, worked at Deutsche Bank for 13 years as its chief China economist and head of China and Hong Kong strategy, following stints at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

Under longtime Governor Zhou Xiaochuan, who is also Tsinghua PBC’s honorary dean, the PBOC has promoted a number of influential Chinese scholars - including so-called “sea turtles”, a colloquialism for Chinese who have returned from overseas, like Ma and Deputy Governor Yi Gang - to senior positions to beef up its management and research capacity.

Yi, who has a PhD in economics from the University of Illinois, is the most senior “sea turtle” at the central bank.

Yi, Guo Shuqing, China’s top banking regulator, and Jiang Chaoliang, a veteran banker who is now Communist Party chief in Hubei province, are seen as leading candidates to replace Zhou, who is 69 and expected to retire this year or next, policy insiders have said.

Reporting by Kevin Yao; Editing by Tony Munroe and Ian Geoghegan