There is a select group of countries (areas) that have something in common: the USA, the UK, Japan and the eurozone. The currency in each of these places is one of the IMF’s reserve currencies. But is China about to enter the mix?
The growth of China has been spectacular and it is now the second largest economy in the world, behind the USA. It is on the back on this growth that China has asked the IMF for the yuan to be included in the IMF’s basket of reserve currencies. The expectation is that Christine Lagarde, the IMF’s Managing Director, will announce its inclusion and, while some suggest that the yuan could become one of the major currencies in the world over the next decade following this move, others say that this is just a ‘symbolic gesture’. But that doesn’t seem to matter, according to Andrew Malcolm, Asia head of capital at Linklaters:
“The direct impact won’t be felt in the near term, not least because implementation of the new basket won’t be until Q3 2016. However the symbolic importance cannot be overlooked…By effectively endorsing the renminbi as a freely useable currency, it sends a strong signal about China’s importance in the global financial markets.”
Concerns about the yuan being included have previously focused on China’s alleged under-valuation of its currency, as a means of boosting export demand, as we discussed in What a devalued yuan means to the rest of the world. However, China has made concerted efforts for the IMF to make this move and China’s continuing financial reforms may be essential. The hope is that with the yuan on the IMF’s special list, it will boost the use of the yuan as a reserve currency for investors. It will also be a contributor to the value of the special drawing right, which is used by the IMF for pricing its emergency loans.
Although the Chinese stock market has been somewhat volatile over the summer period, leading to a devaluation of the currency, it is perhaps this move towards a more market based exchange rate that has allowed the IMF to consider this move. We wait for an announcement from the IMF and the articles below consider this story.
Chinese yuan likely to be added to IMF special basket of currencies The Guardian, Katie Allen (29/11/15)
‘Chinese yuan set for IMF reserve status BBC News (30/11/15)
IMF to make Chinese yuan reserve currency in historic move The Telegraph, James Titcomb (29/11/15)
China selloff pressure Asia stocks, yuan jumpy before IMF decision Reuters, Hideyuki Sano (30/11/15)
IMF’s yuan inclusion signals less risk taking in China Reuters, Pete Sweeney and Krista Hughes (29/11/15)
Did the yuan really pass the IMF currency test? You’ll know soon Bloomberg, Andrew Mayeda (29/11/15)
- What is meant by a reserve currency?
- Why do you think that the inclusion of the yuan on the IMF’s list of reserve currencies will boost investment in China?
- One of the reasons for the delay in the yuan’s inclusion is the alleged under-valuation of the currency. How have the Chinese authorities allegedly engineered a devaluation of the yuan? To what extent could it be described as a ‘depreciation’ rather than a ‘devaluation’?
- Look at the key tests that the yuan must pass in order to be included. Do you think it has passed them given the report produced a few months ago?
- The weighting that a currency is given in the IMF’s basket of currencies affects the interest rate paid when countries borrow from the IMF. How does this work?
The UK’s balance on trade continues to be sharply in deficit. At the same time, both manufacturing and overall production are still well below their pre-crisis levels. What is more, with a sterling exchange rate that has appreciated substantially over recent months, UK exports are at an increasing price disadvantage. The hoped-for re-balancing of the economy from debt-financed consumption to investment and exports has not occurred. Investment in the UK remains low relative to that in other major economies (see).
But other developments in the global economy are working in the UK’s favour.
Manufacturing globally is becoming more capital intensive, which reduces the comparative advantage of developing countries with low labour costs.
At the same time, the dividing line between manufacturing and services is becoming more blurred. Manufacturers in developing countries may still produce parts, such as chips or engines, but the design, marketing and sales of the products may take place in developed countries, such as the UK. Indeed, as products become more sophisticated, an increasing amount of value added may occur in developed countries.
The UK may be particularly well-placed in this regard. It can provide many high-end services in IT, business support and financial services to international manufacturers. It may have a comparative advantage in idea-intensive production.
Finally with a higher exchange rate, the UK’s terms of trade have been improving. The downside is that it makes UK exports more expensive in foreign currency terms, but it also makes commodity prices cheaper, which have already fallen in dollar terms, and also the prices of imported component parts. This helps offset the effect of the appreciation of the exchange rate on exports.
The following article by Jeremy Warner considers whether, despite its poor performance in traditional manufacturing, the UK might have hit an economic ‘sweet spot’ in its trade position.
Unbalanced but lucky, Britain hits an economic sweet spot The Telegraph, Jeremy Warner (8/9/15)
UK Trade (Excel file) ONS (9/9/15)
(See, for example, Worksheet 1. You can search for longer series using Google advanced search, putting www.ons.gov.uk in the ‘site or domaine’ box and searching for a particular series, using the series identifier found at the top of each column in the Excel file, such as BOKI for balance on trade in goods.)
Exchange rate data Bank of England Statistical Interactive Database
- Explain the difference between the balance on trade, the balance on trade in goods and the balance of payments on current account.
- Why has the UK not experienced a re-balancing of the economy as hope for by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, amongst others?
- What is meant by the ‘terms of trade’?
- What would cause an ‘improvement’ in the terms of trade?
- Are the UK’s terms of trade likely to move in the UK’s favour in the coming months? Explain.
- What current factors are mitigating against a recovery of UK manufacturing exports?
- Is de-industrialisation necessarily a ‘bad thing’?
- Does the development of new capital-intensive technologies in manufacturing mean that the UK could become a net exporter of manufactures? Explain why or why not.
China has a key role in the global economy. Recording double digit growth for a number of years and posting impressive export figures, China’s has been an economy on an upward trajectory. But its growth has been slowing and this might spell trouble for the global economy, as was discussed in the following blog. For many, China is the pendulum and the direction it moves in will have a big influence on many other countries.
There are some suggestions that China’s rapid growth has been somewhat artificial, in particular following the financial crisis, where we saw massive investment by state-owner enterprises, banks and local government. This has led to a severe imbalance within the Chinese economy, with high levels of debt. One of the key factors that has enabled China to grow so quickly has been strong exports. China has typically had a large current account surplus, often balanced by large current account deficits in many Western countries.
The exchange rate is a key component in keeping strong export growth and the devaluation of the Chinese currency in August (see What a devalued yuan means to the rest of the world) is perhaps a suggestion that export growth in China is lower than desired. Devaluing the currency will boost the competitiveness of Chinese exports and this in turn may lead to a growth in the current account surplus, which had fallen quite significantly from around 10% to 2%.
The problem is that China is currently imbalanced and this is likely to create problems around the world. With globalisation, the free movement of capital and people, deflation in the West and falling world asset prices, the situation in China is crucial. Although you will find many articles about China and blogs on this site about its devaluation, its growth and policy, the BBC News article below considers the conflicts that exist between three key economic objectives:
1. currency stability
2. the free movement of capital
3. independent monetary policy
and the need for some international co-operation and co-ordination to enable China’s economy to return to internal and external balance.
China’s impossible trinity BBC News, Duncan Weldon (8/9/15)
- What is meant by internal balance?
- What is external balance?
- Would you suggest that China is suffering from an imbalanced economy? If so, which type of imbalance and why is this a problem for China and for the world economy?
- The article refers to the trilemma. Why can an country not achieve all 3 parts of the trilemma? You should explain why each combination of 2 aspects is possible, but why the third is problematic.
- Use a diagram to explain why a fall in the exchange rate will boost the competitiveness of exports and why this can create economic growth.
- Why is a devalued Chinese currency bad news for the rest of the world?
- How could international co-operation and co-ordination help China?
On August 11th, China devalued its currency, the yuan, by 1.9%. The next day it devalued it by a further 1.6% and on the next day by a further 1.1%. Even though the total devaluation was relatively small, especially given a much bigger revaluation over the previous three years (see chart below), traders in world markets greeted the news with considerable pessimism. Stock markets around the world fell. For example, the US Dow Jones was down by 1.1%, the FTSE 100 was down by 2.5% and the German DAX by 5.8%.
There are three major concerns of investors about the devaluation. The first is that a weaker yuan will make other countries’ exports more expensive in China, thereby making it harder to export to China. At the same time Chinese imports into the rest of the world will be cheaper, thereby making it harder for domestic producers to compete with Chinese imports.
The second is that cheaper Chinese imports will put downward pressure on prices at a time when inflation rates in the major economies are already below target rates. The fear of deflation has not gone away and this further deflationary twist will intensify such fears and possibly dampen demand.
The third is that the devaluation is taken as a sign that the Chinese authorities are worried about a slowing Chinese economy and are using the devaluation to boost Chinese exports. The rapidly expanding Chinese economy has been one of the major motors of the global economy in recent years and hence a slowing Chinese economy is cause for serious concern at a time when the global economy is still only very slowly recovering from the shock of the financial crisis of 2007–8
But just how worried should the rest of the world be about the falling yuan? And will it continue to fall, or could this be seen as a ‘one-off’ correction? What effect will it have on the macroeconomic policies of the USA, the eurozone and other major countries/regions? The following articles analyse Chinese policy towards its currency and the implications for the rest of the world.
China weakens yuan for a third straight day on Thursday CNBC, Nyshka Chandran (13/8/15)
Markets reel as investors fear worst of Chinese slowdown is yet to come The Telegraph, Peter Spence (12/8/15)
China cannot risk the global chaos of currency devaluation The Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (12/8/15)
Beware a China crisis that could crash down on us all The Telegraph, Liam Halligan (15/8/15)
The curious case of China’s currency The Economist, Buttonwood’s notebook (11/8/15)
China’s yuan currency falls for a second day BBC News (12/8/15)
China slowdown forces devaluation BBC News, Robert Peston (11/8/15)
What the yuan devaluation means around the world BBC News, Lerato Mbele, Daniel Gallas and Yogita Limaye (12/8/15)
China allows yuan currency to drop for third day BBC News, various reporters (13/8/15)
The Guardian view on global currencies: it’s the economy, stupid The Guardian, Editorial (14/8/15)
China’s currency gambit and Labour’s debate about quantitative easing: old and new ways to cope with economic crisis The Guardian, Paul Mason (16/8/15)
- By what percentages have the nominal and real yuan exchange rate indices appreciated since the beginning of 2011? Use data from the Bank for International Settlements.
- Explain the difference between nominal and real exchange rate indices.
- Compare the changes in the yuan exchange rate indices with that of the yuan/dollar exchange rate (see Bank of England Interactive Database). Explain the difference.
- How is the yuan exchange rate with other currencies determined?
- How have the Chinese authorities engineered a devaluation of the yuan? To what extent could it be described as a ‘depreciation’ rather than a ‘devaluation’?
- Why have world stock markets reacted so negatively to the devaluation?
- Why, in global terms, is the devaluation described as deflationary?
- How much should the rest of the world be worried by the devaluation of the yuan?
- Explain the statement by Robert Peston that ‘Beijing has done the monetary tightening that arguably the US economy needs’.
- Comment on the following statement by Stephen King of HSBC (see the second Telegraph article below): ‘The world economy is sailing across the ocean without any lifeboats to use in case of emergency.’
With an election approaching in the UK, uncertainty is a term we will hear frequently over the next few weeks. Until we know which party or parties will be in power and hence which policies will be implemented, planning anything is difficult. This is just one of the factors that has caused the British pound sterling to fall last week by 2% to an almost five year low against the dollar.
In the last election, uncertainty also prevailed and continued even after the election before the Coalition was formed. Given how close this election appears to be at present, another Coalition may have to be formed and this is adding to the current election uncertainty. A currency strategist at Standard Bank said:
“A $1.40 level for sterling/dollar is certainly not out of reach if the election aftermath turns ugly”
With such uncertainty, investors are refraining from putting their money into the UK and this has contributed towards the deprecation of the British pound against the dollar.
Another factor adding to this downward pressure on the pound is the latest data on industrial output. Although economic growth figures for the UK in 2014 were very positive, there are some suggestions that 2015 will not be as good as expected, though still a strong performance. The first quarter data will not be available until just before the election, but data from the ONS on industrial output shows very minimal growth at just 0.1% from January to February. Chris Williams at Markit said:
“Clearly this all bodes ill for economic growth in the opening quarter of the year. It’s now looking like the economy slowed, and possibly quite markedly, compared to the 0.6% expansion seen in the closing quarter of 2014 … The trend should improve in March, however, according to survey data.”
These two factors have combined to push the pound down, with investors preferring to hold their money in dollars, despite the weak US unemployment data. However, it is not only against the dollar that we must consider sterling’s performance. Against the euro, it has performed better, rising by 1.5%. Whether this is positive for the UK or very negative for the Eurozone is another question. The following articles consider the performance of the British pound.
Sterling falls to five-year low Financial Times, Neil Dennis (10/4/15)
Sterling plummets to five year low as economic slowdown looms The Telegraph, Mehreen Khan (10/4/15)
Pound at five-year low against dollar on weak output BBC News (10/4/15)
Sterling falls after Bank of England’s Haldane says even chances of rate cut or rise Reuters (10/4/15)
Pound falls to five-year low as volatility jumps before election Bloomberg, Anooja Debnath and David Goodman (11/4/15)
Pound falls to a five-year low against the dollar as polls suggest election will create economic uncertainty Mail Online, Matt Chorley (10/4/15)
- Draw a diagram illustrating the way in which the $/£ exchange rate is determined.
- Explain why the election is causing economic uncertainty in the UK.
- How would uncertainty affect the demand and supply of sterling and hence the exchange rate?
- US job data is worse than expected. Shouldn’t this have caused the dollar to depreciate against the pound and not appreciate?
- Industrial output data for the UK economy is lower than expected. What has caused this?
- Why does slower growth in industrial output cause the exchange rate to depreciate?
- In order to keep the UK’s inflation rate on target, Haldane has said that we could expect a cut or rise in interest rates and policy should be prepared for both. How has this affected the exchange rate?
- Are there any advantages of having a lower pound?