The Great Debate UK
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There it goes again. Sterling has been dropping sharply this year against the U.S. dollar and especially the euro, as Britain turns to a tried and trusted remedy for its economic problems: devaluation. Even with its slight uptick on Wednesday, sterling is down more than 6 percent against the euro since the beginning of 2013 and has slid 10 percent over the past six months.
This is not something the British government is boasting about, especially at a time when there’s concern over -- and sometimes a high-level condemnation of -- countries such as Japan that allegedly seek to manipulate their currencies. But it’s also not something the British government or the Bank of England is trying to hide – or stop.
The big question is: Does devaluation still work? It’s an old tool aimed at restoring competitiveness that has been used countless times by Britain in the past. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Labour government devalued sterling sharply against the dollar (and gold). And over the past 60 years the pound has lost more than 80 percent of its value against the German currency – first the mark and now the euro. In that time, the two countries’ economic fortunes have fluctuated, with Germany showing very robust growth in the postwar years and Britain performing relatively better from the early 1990s, when it crashed out of Europe’s system (at the time) of semi-fixed exchange rates, just as Germany was struggling to digest the economic impact of reunification.
Devaluation hasn’t always helped: In 1976, Britain famously had to go to the International Monetary Fund to ask for a loan to end a damaging run on sterling. It can also be a risky strategy if inflation gets out of control, which is why Germany, for one, is so skeptical about devaluation as a policy tool. But there’s a new concern surfacing: Can it even work? In the era after the financial crisis of 2007-08, there is mounting evidence that devaluation may not be able to help kick-start a stalled economy as readily as it may once have done.
The French President has been in the press a lot recently. Firstly, there was the triumph in Mali. “Vive le France!” could be heard in the streets and the swift removal of the Taliban from Northern parts of the country is to be lauded. But after a rousing welcome in Timbuktu, Hollande might find he has a chillier welcome closer to home.
This week Hollande spoke out against the level of the euro. Not only did he do that, but he questioned why the ECB is the only authority in the euro zone who has power over the currency and said that governments’ should have some say on FX policy. This is brave stuff. Hollande is questioning the notion of a free-floating currency, something that the euro zone is fully signed up to and advocates along with other countries in the G20.
-Sir Robert Fry is chairman of McKinney Rogers. His career in the British military includes being director of operations in the Ministry of Defence, advising then prime minister Tony Blair on the military strategic direction of the UK’s response to the September 11 attacks. The opinions expressed are his own.-
In his recent book “On China”, Henry Kissinger rather immodestly, but entirely knowingly, echoes the title of Clausewitz’s seminal work, “On War”. If you’re Henry Kissinger, you can do that. If you’re Henry Kissinger you can also offer a view of unrivalled authority on the politico/strategic landscape of the modern era, which is why his suggestion that China in the 21st Century might reprise the role of Germany in the 20th demands some attention. After the pre-occupation with terrorism of the last 10 years, this sounds rather different. Political ends may be timeless, but the means to prosecute them are rapidly changing, and currency, water, cyber and nuclear instruments may be the weapons of the post 9/11 era.
Baby-boomers like me, who grew up in the shadow of World War II, have to acknowledge with gratitude that the Germany which again dominates Europe is in most respects a model democracy – multiracial, prosperous and contented. However, there is one worrying aspect of the German mentality which seems to have survived intact from its unhappy history, and it is an aspect which is likely to be tested to the full in the coming weeks and months.
From the moment when the Maastricht Treaty was dreamed up in the early 1990s to the inception of the euro zone in 1998, Germany had any number of opportunities to kill the project off and indeed, time and again, policymakers in Bonn or Berlin or Frankfurt voiced their reservations in public. The Bundesbank, in particular, with its overwhelming prestige, spoke out forcefully against what it saw as the dangers of premature monetary union.
As the Greek tragedy goes into what looks like its final act, there is increasing talk of the country leaving the euro zone and refloating the drachma. Perhaps the Athens street mobs favour this “solution”, but what would it involve, and would it work?
It is a bizarre situation, without precedent as far as I am aware (though I am no economic historian). Usually, new currencies are introduced to replace old ones which have become discredited (typically after hyperinflation), whereas here we are talking about the absolute opposite: abandoning the euro because it is too strong, in favour of a new drachma, which will be a weak currency by design – rather like launching a ship, in the hope it will sink!
By Kathleen Brooks. The opinions expressed are her own.
While some market commentators are questioning if the euro zone should even exist, authorities in Switzerland might be looking with envy at the 27-member currency bloc.
But why would a nation as renowned for political as well as financial stability like Switzerland desire the euro? The chief benefit is for its export sector. Swiss companies including watch marker Hublot have complained recently about the strong Swiss franc weighing on their competitiveness. And watch markets are not alone. Exporters in sectors as diverse as cheese and chocolate to engineers, pharma companies and chemical firms are all suffering from the same problem: a strong franc.
By Wei Gu
The following article is part of Reuters Breakingviews' e-book, Predictions for 2011. The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.
HONG KONG -- The Chinese currency rose just 3.6 percent in 2010. As political pressure ebbs and euro zone trouble spreads, traders now expect an even smaller gain for 2011. Beijing has said it wants to make the yuan more flexible. If it really means that, low expectations create a window of opportunity.
The communiqué from last week’s IMF G20 finance minister’s meeting was the first step in trying to resolve the so-called global currency war. The ministers released a joint statement on October 23 which pledged that all countries would “move towards more market determined exchange rate systems that reflect underlying economic fundamentals and refrain from competitive devaluation of currencies.”
Even fears that the U.S. and China could have a bust-up over the U.S.’s charge that the renminibi is undervalued relative to the U.S. dollar were put to bed when it was reported that Treasury Secretary Geithner popped in to China on his way back from the G20 in South Korea to meet Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan.
Competitive devaluation is no longer a possible danger – it is already here. Many people are worried that, after global stock market crashes and a collapse of most of the world’s banking system, a war over exchange rates completes a sequence of events that looks awfully like a rerun of the 1930’s. There is however one crucial difference. The Chinese role certainly makes matters more complicated, though it is as yet unclear whether it makes the outlook better or worse.
The key point to understand about the belligerents is this. In the context of purely self-interested beggar-my-neighbour economic policy, devaluation makes good sense for the Eurozone countries as a whole, the British, the Japanese, Swiss, Koreans… for everyone except the Americans. Whether they are deficit countries, like Britain, or surplus countries, like Switzerland, Korea or Japan, devaluation will increase demand for their exports and make their imports more expensive, giving a boost to their output and employment. And if other countries retaliate by counter-devaluation, they can tell themselves that their situation would have been worse if they had not taken the initiative and got their retaliation in first.
- Kathleen Brooks is research director at forex.com. The opinions expressed are her own -
The minutes from the Federal Reserve’s September meeting seems to suggest that more quantitative easing is a done deal for November. So far, the argument has centred on whether or not the U.S. economy needs another shot in the arm from the Fed to boost growth. The Fed certainly thinks it does. According to the minutes “many” members felt that the status quo – sluggish growth, inflation grinding lower and no sign of a recovery in the jobs market – was enough to justify more easing in policy.