U.S. Markets

Trump aides weighed proposals to undermine Hong Kong’s dollar peg: Bloomberg

(Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump’s top advisers weighed proposals to undermine the Hong Kong currency’s peg to the U.S. dollar, Bloomberg reported, citing people familiar with the matter, though the idea did not appear to have gained traction.

FILE PHOTO: Hong Kong 100 dollar banknotes are displayed during an exhibition at HSBC headquarters in Hong Kong, China January 20, 2016. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

The proposal to strike against the Hong Kong dollar peg, possibly by limiting the ability of Hong Kong banks to buy U.S. dollars, was raised as part of broader discussions among advisers to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Bloomberg’s report on Tuesday said.

Undermining the peg was seen by some advisers as one way to hit back at China for its moves to whittle away at Hong Kong’s political freedoms, the report said.

Other administration members pushed back against the proposal, worrying that such a move would only hurt Hong Kong banks and the United States, not China, sources told Bloomberg. The idea also was not elevated to White House senior levels, the report said.

The report will increase speculation over the stability of the 37-year-old exchange rate peg.

Discussions about the peg’s fate had already been swirling after Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong, leading Washington to begin withdrawing some privileges it accords to the city.

A Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) spokesperson told Reuters that the HKMA had commented on the matter on a number of occasions and had nothing further to add.

Hong Kong Finance Secretary Paul Chan said last month there were no plans to change the peg to the U.S. dollar.

Market watchers are pondering what measures could be implemented to undermine the peg and what the fallout would be.

Analysts at broker Hamilton Court FX predicted this could be done by reducing or rescinding swap lines, curbing Hong Kong authorities’ ability to buy and sell dollars in order to keep the currency within its defined trading range.

Commerzbank analyst Hao Zhou called it a “low-possibility” event but with risk of huge market impact.

“The idea of sanctions, which limits certain entities to get access to the U.S. dollar, consequently will threaten the HKD peg if markets speculate that the HKMA needs to scrap the current regime at some point,” Zhou told clients.

The Hong Kong dollar did not budge on the news, trading at 7.75 against the greenback, near the upper end of the peg's range HKD=D3. Hong Kong dollar forward points up to three-month maturities HKDFWD= were trading marginally higher.

A top priority for the U.S. administration has been to find ways to punish banks based in Hong Kong, particularly HSBC Holdings Plc, according to the Bloomberg report.

London-listed shares in HSBC HSBA.L tumbled as much as 4.2% on Wednesday while Standard Chartered STAN.L slipped 2.4%. Both lenders have come into U.S. crosshairs after backing China's national security law last month.

The U.S. Treasury, State Department and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

HSBC and Standard Chartered declined to comment on the report.

Reporting by Maria Ponnezhath in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Karin Strohecker and Lawrence White in London and Twinnie Siu in Hong Kong, Editing by Sam Holmes, Andrea Ricci and Jonathan Oatis