Opinion

The Great Debate

Euro zone faces QE2 pain test

QE2 — a second round of quantitative easing — means that soon the U.S., Japan and Britain will all be busily exporting their deflation, raising the question: Just how much pain can the euro zone take?

If by November we have three of the largest economies printing money and buying up their own debt, the outcome — in fact the intention — will be to drive their currencies lower against their trading partners, opening new international markets for their goods and, by raising the price of imported goods, fighting deflation before its debilitating psychology can take hold.

That is the plan, at any rate, and, unless something else happens, it will force the euro up against all major currencies, including, as it is tied to the dollar, the Chinese yuan. The euro has risen about 9.5 percent against the dollar in the past month, a trend that ultimately will murder European exporters and its stock market.

For reasons of history, society and sheer cussedness, the European Central Bank does not seem inclined to join in, though as usual there is dissension.

Speaking in New York on Tuesday ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet said that the ECB’s own version of QE, buying bonds of euro zone weak links and other liquidity support, will continue as planned at least until the end of the year, at which point, “We will see.” In contrast governing council member Axel Weber, speaking in the same city on the same day, pointedly called for an end to special measures immediately, saying the risks do not justify the benefits.

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.

China hits a welcome turning point

CHINA

China’s massive supply of cheap labor may at last be drying up, a development that in time will bring higher wages, inflation, a stronger yuan and help to right dangerous global imbalances.

If these trends hasten financial liberalisation they could eventually set the stage for a broader Chinese bubble.
The formerly extremely unequal balance of power between workers and employers in China appears to be shifting.

Workers for a Chinese company which supplies Honda with auto parts have struck and successfully won large wage increases. Other strikes have followed, and firms have often been quick to compromise.

Euro woes increase risk of trade wars

Europe won’t just be exporting deflation to the rest of the world, it will export serious trade tensions as well: first between the United States and China, and, possibly, eventually between Europe and the United States.

The austerity required to get Greece and other weak euro zone nations’ budgets in shape will exert a powerful deflationary force, as many countries which formerly imported more than they exported will be forced to cut back.

As well, the euro has dropped very sharply. Germany’s quixotic campaign against speculators — banning naked short selling against government debt and government credit default swaps — gave the euro its latest shove downward, but the trend has been strong for months. The euro is now about 15 percent below where it started the year against the dollar, making U.S. exports less competitive and adding to pressure on the United States to be the world’s foie gras goose: being force-fed everyone else’s exports while its own unemployment rate remains high.

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).

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.

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.

Global rebalancing to weaken dollar, quietly

– Neal Kimberley is an FX market analyst for Reuters. The opinions expressed are his own –forex

Twenty-four years ago, major nations called for depreciation of the dollar to rebalance the global economy. Now, as another effort at rebalancing looms, the dollar will again bear the brunt — though officials will try to ensure its fall is less dramatic this time.

That’s the implication of President Barack Obama’s announcement this week that he will push world leaders for a new global “framework” in which the United States would cut its huge trade and budget deficits.

Yuan trade settlement mission impossible, for now

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

The People’s Bank of China’s ambitious plan to settle foreign trades in yuan has been given the cold shoulder by companies both at home and abroad. The failure of this experiment shows the difficulties China faces in internationalising its currency.

Launched by the PBOC with a fanfare almost two months ago, the pilot scheme has so far seen only thin volumes of yuan trade settlement. Guangdong province, the country’s export hub, was supposed to be the cornerstone of the plan, but local officials said they found few willing counterparties.

Getting ready for the dollar’s fall

Agnes Crane It just won’t go away, this needling worry about the U.S. dollar losing its coveted top-dog status.

No matter that there are plenty of reasonable arguments to support the dollar as the world reserve currency — namely there’s just no alternative — for perhaps decades to come.

Yet, in a world where once-rock-solid assumptions quickly turn to dust, investors should keep an eye on the dollar since changing perceptions are chipping away at its cherished status as currency to the world.

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