Strong US$ bad news for global recovery

The recent tightening of monetary policy by US Fed Chair Jerome Powell to combat inflation has seen higher borrowing costs and financial-market volatility. The US$ has risen 7% against a series of major currencies since January this year – a two year high. It has always been a safe haven currency and with a rising Fed Rate and market rates even more capital could flow into the US increasing the demand for US dollars and therefore appreciating its value. See mindmap below for the theory behind a stronger currency.

Adapted from: CIE A Level Economics Revision by Susan Grant

A high value of a currency makes exports more expensive but does lead to cheaper imports especially of the inelastic nature. But to foreign economies it does drive up import prices further fueling inflation. For developing countries this is a concern as they are being forced to either allow their currencies to weaken or raise interest rates to try and stem the fall in value. Also developing economies are concerned with the risk of a ‘currency mismatch’ which happens when governments have borrowed in US dollars and lent it out in their local currency. However it is not just developing countries that have had currency issues. This last week saw the euro hit a new five-year low with the US Fed’s aggressive tightening of monetary policy. The real problem for some economies is that they are further down the business cycle than the US so in a weaker position.

“While domestic ‘overheating’ is mostly a US phenomenon, weaker exchange rates add to imported price pressures, keeping inflation significantly above central banks’ 2% targets. Monetary tightening might alleviate this problem, but at the cost of further domestic economic pain.” Dario Perkins – chief European economist at TS Lombard in London

Source: Bloomberg – Dollar’s Strength Pushes World Economy Deeper Into Slowdown. 15th May 2022

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US dollar – journey to reserve currency status and where to from here?

From CNBC – a short history of how the US dollar became the reserve currency and could that status be under threat. The main points from the video are:

  • how investors rush to buy US$ during crisis times
  • the history behind the gold standard
  • 88% of foreign exchange transactions are done in US$
  • Could other currencies threaten the US$ as the global reserve currency?
  • Central banks have added the Chinese Yuan as part of its reserves.
  • European autonomy is being mooted so that they are independent of payment channels in the US$
  • Holdings of of US$ reserves in the global banking system – see image below

US dollar under pressure as the reserve currency.

In doing most introductory courses in economics you will have come across the four functions of money which are:

  • Medium of exchange
  • Unit of Account
  • Store of Value
  • Means of deferred payment

Since the Bretton Woods Agreement in 1944 the US dollar was nominated as the world’s reserve currency and ranks highly compared to other currencies in the above functions. As a medium of exchange the US dollar is very prevalent:

  • 60% of the world’s currency reserves are in US dollars
  • 50% of cross-border interbank claims
  • After the GFC, purchases of the US dollar increased significantly – store of value.
  • Around 90% of forex trading involves the US dollar
  • Approximately 40% of the world’s debt is issued in dollars
  • n 2018 banks of Germany, France, and the UK held more liabilities in US dollars than in their own domestic currencies.

So why therefore is there pressure on the US dollar as the reserve currency?

The COVID-19 pandemic has closed borders and will inevitably lead to more regionalised trade, migration and money flows which suggests a greater use of local currencies. However China has made its intention clear that the Yuan should become a more universal currency. Some interesting facts:

  • Deposits in yuan = 1trn yuan = US$144bn
  • Yuan transactions have grown in Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and London.
  • Investment by Chinese firms into Belt and Road project = US$3.75bn which was in yuan
  • China settles 15% of its foreign trade in yuan
  • France settles 20% of its trade with China in yuan
  • 2018 – Shanghai sock market launched yuan-denominated oil futures.
  • The IMF suggest that the ‘yuan bloc’ accounts for 30% of Global GDP – the US$ = 40%

However if the past is anything to go by the US economy has gone through some very turbulent times but the US dollar has remained firm. This suggests that how we perceive the US economy doesn’t seem to relate to the value of its currency.

Source: The Economist – China wants to make the yuan a central-bank favourite
7th May 2020

US Dollar losing safe currency status

The Washington Post recently reported that with the prospect of the Fed maintaining lower interest rates than its counterparts elsewhere, the US dollar is losing its status as the world’s safe currency in troubled times. The dollar is still dominant but when the European economy gets its fiscal issues resolved – could take a long time – that might lead to a shift away from the dollar to the euro. However on a positive side for the decline in the US$ is that it has been more systematic and not driven by foreign exchange speculators getting out of dollars but by sentiment that the euro, the GB pound, the Canadian dollar are a better buy at this stage. This is ironic as the US economy is starting to pick-up pace, albeit slowly, and the debt crisis in Europe seems to be getting worse – Portugal look as if they will need to be bailed out.

Remember that high interest rates attract foreign investment into a country which means that investors have to change their currency, in the foreign exchange market, into the currency of that country that they wish to invest in. Therefore the demand for that currency goes up which means that it will increase in value. Ben Bernanke has consistently said that he wants to keep short-term interest rates near to zero for an extended period – whatever that means.

Yuan to be a global currency

From the Wall Street Journal – the state-controlled Bank of China Ltd. is allowing customers to trade the yuan, also known as the renminbi, in the U.S. The decision is the latest move by China to allow the yuan, whose value is still tightly controlled by the government, to become an international currency that can be used for trade and investment.

“We’re preparing for the day when renminbi becomes fully convertible,” Li Xiaojing, general manager of Bank of China’s New York branch, told The Wall Street Journal. He said the bank’s goal is to become “the renminbi clearing center in America.”

Bank of China’s move comes at a time of U.S. pressure on China to let its currency rise in value. America has blamed an unfairly valued yuan for exacerbating the U.S. trade deficit with China. But the preparations for convertibility are also a sign of Chinese strength, as China, now the world’s second-largest national economy, recognizes that as a global power it must have a global currency. In time, a globally traded yuan could emerge as a store of value on par with the dollar, euro and yen.