The USA has complained for a long time now that the Chinese currency is undervalued. This makes it hard for American domestic firms to compete with cheap Chinese imports and for US exporters to sell to China. This was a major talking point at the G20 conference in Korea in November 2010: see Seoul traders and the following clip from Reuters: Obama pressures China at G20.
So is the yuan undervalued and, if so, has there been any appreciation to reduce the degree of undervaluation? In 2005, the yuan was pegged at $0.12 (or $1 = ¥8.28). In July 2005 the peg was relaxed and the yuan has appreciated. By mid-December 2010, the yuan was trading at $0.15 (or $1 = ¥6.66) – a 25% appreciation since 2005. In real terms the appreciation has been greater. Chinese inflation is above US inflation. Latest figures for Chinese inflation show consumer prices rising by an annual rate of 5.1%. This compares with 1.2% in the USA. This makes the real appreciation greater.
But despite this appreciation, the USA maintains that the Chinese currency is still considerably undervalued. Estimates for this undervaluation are around 40%. In its latest ‘Big Mac Index’, The Economist calculates this undervaluation at 41.2%. Links to the relevant data are given below. Read the articles and then use the data to answer the questions.
China’s soaring inflation could hit UK shoppers The Telegraph, Richard Tyler (11/12/10)
China says November inflation rises to 5.1 percent Bloomberg, Cara Anna (11/12/10)
Jump in China inflation keeps focus on tightening Reuters, Aileen Wang and Simon Rabinovitch (11/12/10)
China inflation rise fastest since July 2008, exceeds market forecast The Australian, Aaron Back (11/12/10)
China’s top economic planner says December CPI likely below 5% Xinhuanet (11/12/10)
Yuan rises vs dollar after strong trade data The Economic Times of India (11/12/10)
Who wins if Yuan is significantly revalued? International Business Times (12/12/10)
Currency war reveals growing global fissures AsiaOne (11/12/10)
How China’s Inflation Policy Will Help the Yuan / Dollar Exchange Rate Seeking Alpha, Ed Dolan (29/11/10)
Monthly Data Chinese National Bureau of Statistics
US Inflation Rate in Percent for Jan 2000-Present InflationData.com
BIS effective exchange rate indices Bank for International Settlements
Spot Exchange Rates Bank of England
IMF World Economic Ourlook Data Find The Best
Economic Data freely available online The Economics Network
The Big Mac Index The Economist
- Using Bank for International Settlements data above (broad indices), plot the nominal and real exchange rate indices for the US dollar and the yuan from 2005 to the present day. How much have (a) the nominal and (b) the real yuan exchange rate indices appreciated against the dollar exchange rate indices? (Note: you can use the Excel data to plot all four series on the same diagram.)
- Why has the Chinese rate of inflation risen?
- How are the anti-inflationary policies being considered by the Chinese authorities likely to impact on (a) the yuan exchange rate (b) the Chinese current account?
- In what ways do the Chinese authorities intervene in the foreign exchange market?
- What are the implications of the People’s Bank of China increasing the amount of yuan that can be traded on currency markets and increasing the amount of yuan-denominated debt?
- What are meant by purchasing power parity (PPP) exchange rates? Is the Big Mac index a good guide to the degree to which a currency is under- or overvalued?
The demise of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency has been predicted for a long time now. Yet it is still way surpasses other currencies, such as the euro and yen, as the main reserve currency of most countries. Also it still dominates world trade with much of international trade being priced in dollars. Indeed, as the eurozone reeled from the Greek debt crisis in early February (see A Greek tragedy and Debt and the euro) so investors sold euros and bought dollars. The dollar gained 12 per cent against the euro from December 2009 to February 2010 (from $1 = €0.66 on 1/12/09 to $1 = €0.74 by mid February).
But a number of economists, investors and officials argue that the dollar’s dominance is gradually being eroded:
As the United States racks up staggering deficits and the center of economic activity shifts to fast-growing countries such as China and Brazil, these sources fear the United States faces the risk of another devaluation of the dollar. This time in slow motion – but perhaps not as slow as some might think. If the world loses confidence in U.S. policies, “there’d be hell to pay for the dollar … Sooner or later, the U.S. is going to have to pay attention to the dollar”, [said Scott Pardee, economics professor at Vermont’s Middlebury College and formerly on the staff of the New York Fed].
So what is likely to be the future of the dollar? Will it remain the number one world reserve currency? Will its position be gradually, or even rapidly eroded? What will happen to the exchange rate of the dollar in the process? Finally, what is the significance of the trade and budget deficits in the USA? Are these of benefit to the rest of the world in providing the necessary dollars to finance world trade and investment? Or are they a source of global imbalance and instability? The following article look at these issues.
How long can the U.S. dollar defy gravity? Reuters, Steven C. Johnson, Kristina Cooke and David Lawder (23/2/10)
Is greenback’s dominance coming to an end? Stuff (New Zealand), Tony Alexander (24/2/10)
Reconstructing The World Economy Eurasia Review, John Lipsky (25/2/10): see final part on Reforming the International Monetary System. See also the following conference paper referred to in this article:
The Debate on the International Monetary System Korea Development Institute / IMF Conference on Reconstructing the World Economy, Seoul, Korea, Isabelle Mateos y Lago (25/2/10)
- To what extent does the world benefit from having the dollar as the main reserve currency?
- What is the role of US current account and budget deficits in supporting this reserve currency role? How important is the size of these deficits?
- What is likely to happen to the exchange rate of the dollar against other major currencies in the coming years?
- What alternatives are there to having the dollar as the world’s main reserve?
- Does it matter if China holds $2.3 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, with nearly $800 billion in US Treasury debt?
- Why is the value of its currency a less urgent problem for the USA ‘than it would be for other borrowers who borrow and pay for imports with dollars’?
- What are ‘currency swap accords’ and why are they important for China?
- What are the implications of the Chinese yuan being undervalued against the dollar by as much as 40%?
Trade relations between the USA and China have deteriorated recently. There are two key issues: the exchange rate and trade protectionism.
The Chinese currency, the yuan or renmimbi, since 2005 has been officially pegged to a trade-weighted basket of other currencies. In recent months, however, as the dollar has fallen relative to other major currencies, so too has the yuan. It seems as if the peg is with the dollar, not with the basket. From March to December 2009, the exchange rate index of the dollar depreciated by 16 per cent. Yet the exchange rate between the yuan and the dollar hardly changed. In other words, the yuan depreciated along with the dollar against other world currencies, such as the euro, the pound and the yen. The trade advantage that this was giving to the USA with other countries did not apply to China.
Complaints continued that cheap Chinese goods were flooding into the USA, threatening US jobs and undermining US recovery. The Chinese currency was argued to be undervalued relative to its purchasing-power-parity rate. For example, the July 2009 Big Mac index showed the yuan undervalued by 49% against the dollar (see Economics 7e, Box 25.4 for a discussion of the Big Mac index).
The USA, and other countries too, have been putting diplomatic pressure on the Chinese to revalue the yuan and to remove subsidies on their exports. At the same time various protectionist moves have been taken. For example, on December 31 2009 the US International Trade Commission voted to impose tariffs on the $2.8 billion worth of steel-pipe imports from China. The tariffs would be between 10.4% and 15.8%.
The following articles look at these trade and exchange rate issues. Are we heading for a deepening trade war between the USA and China?
Currency contortions The Economist (17/12/09)
Beijing dismisses currency pressure Financial Times, Geoff Dyer (28/12/09)
China aims for 10pc growth and won’t appreciate yuan The Australian (29/12/09)
Wen stands firm on yuan China Daily (28/12/09)
China’s premier says banks should curb lending BusinessWeek, Joe McDonald (27/12/09)
China insists will reform yuan at its own pace Forexyard, Aileen Wang and Simon Rabinovitch (31/12/09)
US slaps new duties on Chinese steel Financial Times, Alan Rappeport (30/12/09)
Chinese Steel Pipes Face Heavy U.S. Duties BusinessWeek, Daniel Whitten (31/12/09)
The US-China Trade War Is Here The Business Insider, Vincent Fernando (10/12/09)
Year dominated by weak dollar Financial Times, Anjli Raval (2/1/10)
- Explain what is meant by the ‘purchasing-power-parity (ppp) exchange rate’.
- Why is the yuan (or ‘renmimbi’) undervalued in ppp terms?
- What are the the implications of an undervalued currency for that country’s current and financial account of the balance of payments?
- What would be the implications of a revaluation of the yuan for (a) China and (b) China’s trading partners?
- Discuss Premier Wen Jiabao’s statement, “The basic stability of the renminbi is conducive to international society”.
- What forms of protectionism have been used by (a) China and (b) China’s trading partners? Who gains and who loses from such protectionism?
“We will look back at 2009 as a watershed in economic history. This is the first time since the war that the world economy has not been led out of a recession by the US consumer.” (Jeremy Beckworth, CIO, Kleinwort Benson Private Bank – see second linked article below) How has the Chinese economy fared during the global recession? What policies has it pursued and how successful have they been? Will Chinese growth continue and how will this impact on the rest of the world? What economic risks does China face? These are questions that the following articles consider.
Array of figures adds to optimism over China economy Reuters (15/10/09)
Look East for the land of opportunity Jeremy Beckwith, Portfolio Adviser (14/10/09)
Greenback Woes Boost China’s Global Muscle Money Morning (15/10/09)
China Rises Amid Global Economic Crisis Manufacturing.net (13/10/09)
Why China must do more to rebalance its economy Financial Times (22/9/09)
China economic growth accelerates BBC News (22/10/09)
Chinese economy grows at fastest pace in a year Telegraph (22/10/09)
China’s 3Q growth accelerates to 8.9% pace Los Angeles Times (22/10/09)
- Examine whether Chinese inward investment to the UK is desirable for UK companies and employees.
- Why is a more powerful Chinese economy a ‘mixed blessing’ for the USA?
- In what ways is the Chinese economy ‘distorted’? Explain why this matters.
- Why is it encouraging that China’s current account and balance of trade surpluses have been shrinking?
- What effect would an appreciation of the yuan (or ‘renmimbi’) have (a) on the Chinese economy; (b) on the rest of the world? What would determine the size of this effect for any given appreciation?
- Why must China do more to rebalance its economy?
China’s rate of inflation has hit an 11-year high, partly due to the cold winter weather destroying crops and pushing up food prices. However, inflationary pressure has been growing for some time with rapid economic growth and the resultant pressure on resources. This is despite six increases in interest rates in the past thirteen months.
Families feel pinch as inflation threatens economic miracle Guardian (25/2/08)
Chinese inflation soars to an 11-year high Times Online (20/2/08)
Chinese inflation hits 11 year high Times Online (19/2/08)
||Explain the principal factors that have led to the increase in inflation in China.
||“Policymakers in China will likely try to tighten monetary policy further, with more reserve requirement ratio hikes, faster Chinese yuan appreciation, and more heavy handed controls over bank lending.” Discuss the likely effectiveness of these policy measures.
||Assess the extent to which changes in food prices will affect the overall level of aggregate demand in the Chinese economy.