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China to halve Macau cash withdrawal limit for UnionPay cardholders

China is to halve the cash machine limit for certain cardholders visiting the gambling enclave of Macau, in what analysts said was its latest effort to curb massive capital outflows caused by the falling yuan.

From Saturday, punters using the UnionPay system — around half of those visiting the city from the mainland — will only be able to get 5,000 patacas (around US$600 or HK$4,900) each time they go to the ATM, the Monetary Authority of Macao said.

Macau

Macau. File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

The move was to “further strengthen the measures to regulate Mainland bank card cash withdrawals,” it said.

A South China Morning Post report Friday saying that the limit would apply to total daily withdrawals sent Hong Kong-listed casino stocks plunging.

Sands China closed down 7.87 percent, Wynn Macau was 7.09 percent lower and Galaxy Entertainment lost 7.04 percent.

The Macau Monetary Authority statement came after the market had closed.

UnionPay International said in a statement to AFP that its overseas cash withdrawal policies “remain the same” –- 10,000 yuan per day with an annual cap of 100,000 yuan (US$14,500) –- but added it complies with regulations and laws issued by relevant authorities.

Despite their incremental nature, the changes appear to be an attempt by Chinese authorities to stem a growing tide of capital flowing out of China as locals seek safer investments abroad, analysts said.

Capital flight is estimated by Bloomberg to have reached US$1 trillion in 2015 and has continued during 2016, despite recent efforts by Beijing to tighten restrictions on currency flows.

China‘s foreign exchange reserves, the world’s largest hard-currency stockpile, dropped for the fifth-straight month in November to US$3.05 trillion, prompting authorities to step up control on capital flight.

Beijing had earlier this week warned against “irrational” overseas acquisitions as more domestic funds were being spent overseas with Chinese company’s increasing shopping spree on foreign asset.

It also indicated it could relax restrictions on foreign investment in some sectors.

While analysts initially predicted a significant impact to the city’s gaming revenues from the move, they walked back their assessments in light of the statement from Macau.

Restricting the amount of cash available per transaction was an “incremental step” to stop capital outflows by making cash withdrawals less convenient, Francis Lun of Hong Kong-based GEO Securities told AFP.

“It makes it more difficult for people to send money out of the country. They hope they can reduce the spending of Chinese overseas by limiting the amount they can take out at one time, so they have to do it more than once. They’re putting in more roadblocks,” he said.

“The number one problem facing Chinese authorities is the outflow of hard currency,” he added.

The stock plunges were “overdone” he said after it emerged that the slashing of withdrawals was less drastic than previously thought.

China’s State Administration of Foreign Exchange Reserve had already capped the amount of money UnionPay cardholders could spend overseas on insurance products earlier this year as wealthy Chinese have been buying up insurance policies in Hong Kong using credit cards.

China to halve Macau cash withdrawal limit for UnionPay cardholders