Opinion

The Great Debate

Be careful what you wish for on currencies

The rancorous argument about global payment imbalances and the yuan’s valuation is exposing a surprising and dangerous economic illiteracy among policymakers and commentators.

Before pressing China to allow a maxi-revaluation of the yuan, western commentators need to think through the consequences carefully. The idea that devaluing the dollar (and by extension euro and yen) will cause payment imbalances to disappear and boost employment in the West with little or no impact on inflation and living standards is a pipe dream.

MAXI-DEVALUATION
First some notes about terminology. Proponents generally phrase their argument in terms of an appreciation of the yuan (which keeps the focus on the alleged currency manipulators in China). But it could just as easily be recast as a depreciation of the dollar (which is a much more controversial formulation, highlighting the fact that the exchange rate problem reflects U.S. weakness as much as China’s strength).

Since most observers assume bilateral relationships between the dollar and other major currencies would not alter significantly, China is in fact being pressed to permit a balanced depreciation of the dollar, euro, yen and other major currencies.

Finally, we are not talking about small changes but very large ones. Observers have suggested the dollar might be overvalued as much as 25-50 percent. Devaluing it 5 percent is unlikely to cause a substantial adjustment in China’s trade surpluses with the United States and globally and will not remove the political tensions and the root of the crisis.
Only a very large reduction in the dollar’s value over a period of years, in effect a “maxi-devaluation”, could hope to adjust the relative trade performance of the two countries.

U.S. currency bill likely misses target

U.S. Senators Charles Schumer (D, New York) and Lindsey Graham (R, South Carolina) have announced plans to introduce a bill allowing the Commerce Department to take account of currency undervaluation when calculating anti-dumping duties.

The target is clearly China. It threatens to inflame the already rancorous and dangerously escalating dispute with Beijing over exchange rate policy to no good purpose.
Legislative pressure will not make China’s government any more likely to accelerate the renminbi’s revaluation. If anything it will cause the government to postpone a revaluation most officials concede will eventually be necessary.
China’s government cannot afford to show weakness in succumbing to pressure from “western devils” (“gwai lo”) without losing face in the eyes of its own public. China’s Premier Wen Jiabao has already branded U.S. pressure on the currency issue as a form of “protectionism.” The Schumer-Graham bill is likely to draw an even more angry response.

So the Schumer-Graham bill is a piece of election year theatre, but a counterproductive one. It threatens to worsen already poor relations between two countries that need to be friends but are currently experiencing a steady escalation in tensions on everything from economics to Tibet and weapons sales to Taiwan.

Goodbye America, Hello China? Think again

For the growing number of Americans who see China heading for inevitable global dominance, nudging aside the United States, a brief walk down memory lane helps put long-term predictions into perspective.

Not so long ago, Japan was seen as the next (economic) number 1. American executives studied the 14 management principles of The Toyota Way, developed by the automobile manufacturer that grew into the world’s biggest car maker and is now recalling millions of defective vehicles.

Between the mid-1980s and early 1990s, books with titles such as Trading Places – How We Are Giving Our Future to Japan and How to Reclaim It (by Clyde Prestowitz) were required reading in Washington. Learned panelists expounded on the wondrous efficiency of “Japan Inc.”

Tightening underway, Fed a passenger

A tightening in financial conditions is under way but its principal architect won’t be the Federal Reserve.

Far from it, the Fed will be pinned down by powerful disinflationary, perhaps even deflationary, forces, making it very unlikely to be willing to raise interest rates any time soon.

Instead the tightening is coming from Asia, where China is fighting a local battle against rampant lending, and from investors all over the world, as one by one they realize that lending to governments isn’t always so risk-free.

At least U.S. has Japan to fall back on

(James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own)

The bad news for holders of U.S. debt, in case you missed it, is that China has sold so many Treasuries that it is no longer America’s leading lender.

The worse news is that there is a new creditor-in-chief, and it is Japan, an aging country with its own government debt bubble to contend with.

China sold about $34 billion of Treasuries in December, taking its holdings to $755 billion, while Japan increased its purchases and now is in the top spot of the Treasury Department’s scroll of merit, with $768 billion. China’s holdings peaked in April, since when the trend has been gently downward.

China tightening could undo risk markets

saft2.jpgThe key decision for global markets in 2010 will very likely not be made in Washington but Beijing, where emerging inflation and a property bubble may push China to begin reining in expansionary policies earlier than will suit the developed world.

After returning to a breakneck pace of growth with amazing speed, there are already signs that China is weighing steps to curtail the bank lending that has been a huge source of stimulus, helping to drive property and other asset prices sharply higher.

“We emphasize the role of the reserve-requirement ratio, although the ratio was internationally seen as useless for years and it was thought central banks could abandon the tool,” Chinese central bank Governor Zhou Xiaochuan said at a Beijing conference on Tuesday.

China can outgrow overcapacity, at least for now

WeiGucrop.jpg– Wei Gu is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are her own —

China watchers are worried that excessive lending leads to massive overcapacity. However, the risk of Beijing pressing too hard on the brake is even greater. At least for now, China should be able to growing its way out of its bad debt problems.

Banking regulator Liu Mingkang recently told a conference that China’s banks should lend out 6-7 trillion yuan next year, equivalent to about one fifth of China’s annual output. Some think that is too much. However, these fears are overdone. Indeed, if new lending falls below 10 trillion yuan, bad debts will soar, private investment will be crowded out and the economic recovery may be derailed.

How to finance the war in Afghanistan?

obama-china

global_post_logo– This opinion piece was written by C.M. Sennot for GlobalPost. The views expressed are his own. It was originally published here on GlobalPost. –

The last time America had to borrow money to finance a war was during the Revolution and a cash-strapped Continental Congress took loans from France to fund a surge against the British.

That worked out pretty well.

But it’s hard to feel the spirit of 1776 in President Obama’s journey to China. He went as a representative of a borrowing nation to its primary lender amid a call for yet another costly military surge in the Long War that is escalating in Afghanistan even if it is hopefully winding down in Iraq.

China’s yuan, not the dollar, is too cheap

morici– Peter Morici is a Professor at the Smith School of Business, University of Maryland, and former chief economist at the United States International Trade Commission. The views expressed are his own. —

From Berlin to Bangkok, governments are screaming about the falling dollar, because they can no longer rely on reckless American consumers to power their economies.

From the late 1980s to 2007, the global economy enjoyed The Great Moderation-low inflation and sustained growth interrupted by brief recessions. Driving global growth was an eight fold increase in the U.S. trade deficit, facilitated by a doubling of the value of the dollar against other currencies from 1989 to 2002.

Change the climate narrative

birdsell-subramanian– Nancy Birdsall is the president of the Center for Global Development. Arvind Subramanian is a senior fellow at the Center and at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and a regular columnist for the Business Standard, India’s leading business newspaper. The views expressed are their own. –

Efforts to cut emissions of the heat-trapping gases are gridlocked over a misunderstanding about what is fair. This misunderstanding is hindering climate change legislation in Congress and threatens to torpedo international negotiations in Copenhagen next month.

We propose a new way of thinking about climate fairness that focuses not on emissions cuts but on meeting developing countries’ energy needs in a climate-friendly manner. This simple narrative can provide a framework for U.S. legislation and open the way for international collaborative efforts to avert climate catastrophe.

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