China's foreign currency reserves decline

US dollar notes
Image caption Some currency speculators have moved out of Chinese yuan and into US dollars

China's official foreign currency reserves fell in the last three months of 2011, marking their first quarterly decline since 1998.

Figures from the People's Bank of China showed its reserves had slipped 0.6% to $3.18tn (£2.07tn).

Beijing's stock of foreign currencies is still by far the biggest in the world.

The reserves reflect China's trade surplus as well as investments in China by foreign companies.

Analysts say the fall in reserves may be a sign of speculators moving their money out of the Chinese currency because they expect it to fall against the US dollar.

It also reflects China's narrowing trade surplus, caused by falling demand for Chinese goods among overseas customers hit by the financial crisis.

China's trade surplus narrowed for a third consecutive year in 2011, falling to about $160bn compared with its record high of $295bn in 2008.

The Shanghai Composite Index closed down 1.3% on Friday, accelerating its losses after the reserve figures were released.

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