Despite being the most talked about currency in trade, renminbi (Rmb) use to settle payment amongst companies is not growing significantly.

A new study from HSBC shows that in some of the most important markets of the world, the Chinese currency’s usage has even declined.

In Hong Kong, the first offshore clearing market for the Rmb, 52% of companies that do business with China are settling in Rmb, compared with 60% a year ago. In Singapore, the figure is 15% this year, down from 16% last year, while the major European centres, the UK, France and Germany, have seen the Rmb use fall away by 3%, 10% and 26%, respectively.

The figures will come as a surprise to many, given the fanfare that accompanies every new development in the currency’s liberalisation process – of which there have been many of late. The decline in use among German and British businesses is particularly baffling, given that both were involved in a race to become the first European offshore clearing hub for the Rmb last year (Germany won out by a matter of hours).

The headline Rmb story of 2015 to date was that it has become the fifth most-used currency for global payments, with the value of trade doubling over the course of 12 months, according data from payments provider Swift.

HSBC’s survey of 1,600 trading companies from 14 countries found that around one fifth are discussing the Rmb in the boardroom. Which begs the question: is the rise of the Rmb all talk?

Certainly, there have been questions raised in the Asian market about the currency’s use in trade. One senior figure from an Asian bank tells GTR that the Rmb chatter is mainly being propagated by payments companies which have an interest in its uptake and that he has seen very few significant transactions settled in Chinese currency.

And while companies are expecting to increase cross-border trade with China over the coming year, and to settle more of this trade in local currency, these figures are also down on last year. Whereas in 2014, 59% of those surveyed expected an increase in trade with mainland China, this has fallen to 54% this year. In 2014, 32% of non-users expected to settle in Rmb over the course of the year; this has fallen to 27% in 2015.

This could be explained by the slowdown in China and the publicity this has received in the mainstream media. After enjoying double-digit growth for the previous two decades, the Chinese economy has slowed to around 7% GDP expansion per year, with the government in Beijing attempting to restructure the economy from an investment-based model to one based on domestic consumption.

The very latest economic data suggests that in the first two months of 2015, the economy in China continued to slow, with confidence dropping and orders down on last year, both from overseas and domestic buyers.

And while the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) has been making significant in-roads to its liberalisation and internationalisation programme for the Rmb, there is certainty among China watchers that it is still intervening regularly in an effort to prop the currency up.

“Data for January showed Chinese banks continuing to sell foreign currency to the non-bank sector last month. This has a few implications. First, the fact that banks were net sellers despite a record trade surplus and strong foreign direct investment inflows points to large-scale capital outflows in January. Second, it is consistent with our view that the People’s Bank has continued to sell forex in order to shore up the Rmb, which fell to the bottom of its trading band last month,” wrote Capital Economics’ Mark Williams in a recent note.

Commenting on the survey’s results, HSBC’s CEO for commercial banking Simon Cooper says: “It’s interesting to see that views about the Rmb’s future impact have diverged since 2014. More businesses in the UK, the UAE, the US and Singapore now think the Rmb will be used to settle non-China trade within five years, just as the dollar is used today for transactions that don’t involve US counterparties.

“Conversely we’ve seen businesses become more hesitant in Taiwan and in Germany. For me, this is another sign of the Rmb maturing as a global currency; one that fluctuates in value and one for which demand can be influenced by developments outside mainland China.”