Opinion

The Great Debate

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A devalued pound can’t save the British economy

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.

In a recent speech, Martin Weale, a senior member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee, openly discussed the desirability of a continued fall in sterling’s value against other currencies. Yet he prefaced his remarks with a critique of British trade performance since 2007-08, when the pound dropped by 25 percent. Despite that depreciation, Britain’s balance-of-payments deficit is no smaller today than it was beforehand. His conclusion: “The United Kingdom seems to have made no progress with rebalancing.”

China runs circles round adversaries

If the global currency war was a baseball game, they would have to invoke the “slaughter rule” and send China home the winner.

Motivations and consequences aside, China is so adroit in melding diplomacy, jawboning and action to keep the value of its currency low that you have to feel something approaching compassion for its plodding adversaries from the U.S., Europe and Japan.

China’s latest well played move is its pledge to use some of its massive foreign currency reserves to support poor Greece, which the markets widely believe will default some fine day, European Union support or not.

from The Great Debate UK:

Waiting for the other shoe to drop

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-Laurence Copeland is professor of finance at Cardiff University Business School. The opinions expressed are his own and do not constitute investment advice. -

The unemployed and the terminal insomniacs who have nothing better to do than read my blogs will know that I have long been gloomy about most of the Western economies. How can you fail to be pessimistic when the world economy is still dominated by the U.S. - a basket case, becoming weaker every day, with a political class too blind or too scared to admit in public the obvious fact that the country cannot carry on living beyond its means?

Now house prices are plunging again and, with the dollar still strong, the prospects for an export-led recovery look bleak. In fact, a return to recession is far more likely, and the markets are starting to show signs of that sickening here-we-go-again feeling.

China move like history in slow-motion

Asked about 175 years after the fact what he made of the French Revolution, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai is said to have thought for a moment and concluded: “It is too soon to tell.”

Tell a U.S Congressman up for reelection or an unemployed auto parts worker in Ohio the same thing about China’s new policy to give the yuan more latitude in how it trades against the dollar and, once you’ve picked yourself up off the ground, you’ll have a different answer.

China on Saturday said it would end the yuan’s currency peg to the dollar, allowing it to trade more freely. It also made clear that no big move was forthcoming, preparing the way instead for “gradual” appreciation.

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).

from The Great Debate UK:

Development of the risk trade

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- Jane Foley is research director at Forex.com. The opinions expressed are her own.-

A willingness to differentiate between risk on a country or at a regional level is an important part of the repair process in financial markets.

Credit worthiness is at the core of any assessment of risk and naturally credit worthiness can sort "risk" into a hierarchy which should be instrumental to the pricing of assets and currencies.

from The Great Debate UK:

Asia’s exchange rates set for centre stage

JaneFoley.JPG-Jane Foley is research director at Forex.com. The opinions expressed are her own.-

November meetings of leaders from the Group of 20 industrialized nations may not have had exchange rates on the agenda, but the notes prepared by the International Monetary Fund included some meaty foreign exchange references.

The first is the view that although the dollar has moved closer to medium-term equilibrium it “still remains on the strong side”.  The second is the (widely held) view that the dollar “is now serving as the funding currency for carry trades” which has contributed to upward pressure on the euro.

from The Great Debate UK:

Slow growth and deficit stem lure of dollar

JaneFoley.JPG-Jane Foley is research director at Forex.com. The opinions expressed are her own.-

The U.S. dollar may have found support this week but the USD index remains at a 14-month low.

The impact of the financial crisis in drawing buyers to the "safe-haven" dollar has in effect been almost cancelled out by the healing in risk appetite. The dollar looks to have re-embarked on the downtrend that had been in place for more than two years prior to the start of the financial crisis, only now the U.S. fundamentals have arguably deteriorated further.  

from The Great Debate UK:

Whose money will prevail as reserve currency?

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-Jane Foley is research director at Forex.com. The opinions expressed are her own.-

If there is one foreign exchange story that will run and run it is the one about the U.S. dollar (USD) and its future as the world’s dominant reserve currency.  The discussions on this topic have at least brought some agreement, namely that there is no clear alternative and therefore there can be no quick fix change.  That said, much uncertainty remains as to what can, if anything, eventually replace the dollar.

The basis for questioning the USD’s position as global reserve currency stems from its declining value and its "poor" fundamentals.  The dollar index is currently trading close to where it was 14 mpnths ago, ahead of the financial crisis.  At that point the USD had been on a downtrend for over two years. The widening in the U.S.’s budget deficit this year has worsened the fundamental backdrop and drawn attention to its "twin deficits".  This has made creditor nations nervous. 

Ukraine too far east for western banks

– Margaret Doyle is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are her own –

Margaret DoyleIt’s tough on Ukraine, but European banks should pull out. It may not be the only Eastern European economy giving its western bankers a headache but that country’s political chaos and weak corporate governance outweigh the prospects of a return to growth.

Hungarians and Romanians, the bulk of whose loans are in foreign currencies, have seen their debts rise as their own currencies fall. And Sweden’s SEB and Swedbank have taken a pasting in their neighbouring Baltic states.

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