MacroScope

The meaning of a dollar

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The harshest congressional critic of the Federal Reserve faced the toughest internal questioner of central bank policy across a witness table on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. Surely there would be a meeting of the minds. Alas, it was not to be.

As Congress remained stalemated over avoiding a catastrophic U.S. debt default with a crucial deadline days away, Representative Ron Paul grilled a top Fed official over an issue that has been troubling him: Why is the dollar money and gold not? As Kansas City Fed President Thomas Hoenig testified before the House Financial Services domestic monetary affairs committee, which Paul chairs, the congressman told him:

Last week I learned that gold is not money. I’ve been able to put that out of my mind … so I’m still trying to find out what money is.

That, to Paul begged the question: What is a dollar? Some background: Paul, who has long advocated abolishing the Fed and returning to a currency backed by gold or silver, couldn’t get Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke to confirm, at a hearing two weeks ago, that the yellow stuff is the equivalent of cash.

“No, it’s a precious metal,” Bernanke said. Banks hold it because it is an asset that can be sold, he said. Investors hold it as a hedge against uncertain times, which is why its value has hit record levels of late.

Giant FX market now $4 trillion gorilla

Global foreign exchange has always been one of the biggest markets in the world but its exponential growth keeps accelerating. The triennial survey by the Bank for International Settlements shows global foreign exchange market turnover leapt 20 percent to $4 trillion, compared with $3.3 trillion three years ago.

FXBIS

The increase in turnover was driven by growth in spot transactions, which represent 37 percent of FX market turnover.  Turnover was driven by trading activity by “other financial institutions” — a category that includes hedge funds, pension funds and central banks, extending a trend seen in the past several years where buyside firms are increasingly trading currencies themselves, via prime brokerage, rather than turning to interbank dealers.

Also notably, emerging market currencies are gradually increasing their share in the marketplace. Turnover of the Russian rouble has increased its share in total turnover to 0.9 percent of 200 percent (FX is double counted as transaction involves two currencies), up from 0.7 percent three years ago, while the Brazilian real rose to 0.7 percent from 0.4 percent. The Indian rupee’s share rose to 0.9 percent from 0.7 percent. The dollar keeps its dominance, although off its 2001 peak, with its share standing at 84.9 percent.

from Sebastian Tong:

Stop pushing and we’ll do it

The growing acrimony in the international debate over China's currency policy has led some to warn that Beijing could dig in its heels if pushed to hard to let its yuan rise. crybaby

But Barclays Capital says Beijing could let its currency strengthen as early as next month, notwithstanding its public resolve against Washington's threat to label it as a currency manipulator.

"They do have a 'If you stop pushing, we'll do it' attitude, which is kind of childish, really. But it will happen because they are the only country in the world, besides India, where there is a whiff of inflation," says Barclays' asset allocation head Tim Bond.

What can Kan do?

Mixed reaction from major European banks to appointment of Naoto Kan as new Japanese finance minister. ING is pretty scathing, saying the appointment sidesteps a process of change Japan must undertake to avoid further stagnation or a fate far worse.

“PM Hatoyama has appointed someone with no experience in economic management… Mr. Kan takes on the finance minister role without a well documented, deeply considered policy agenda. Here we rely on reports of positions he has taken in the Cabinet, and from public statements on economic management. These suggest his instincts are to pursue a stimulus strategy involving higher government spending; a weaker yen and ultra-loose monetary policy. Mr. Kan appears tone deaf to microeconomic reform or to the threats to financial stability posed by high public debt.”

The implication, ING says, confirms its worries about Japanese government bonds.

Former Head of U.S. Mint Goes for Gold

You know the American dollar is in trouble when… 
There is plenty of discussion about the fate of the U.S. greenback these days, what with multi-trillion dollar rescues still flowing through the financial system. But dollar bulls might feel just a little trepidation to see Jay Johnson, former head of the U.S. mint — the folks that print the stuff — become a spokesperson for gold. Johnson actually passed away last month, but he can still be seen on TV infomercials, singing gold’s praises.  

Gold this week rallied to a new record high above $1100 an ounce, even as the dollar sank to a 15-month low against a basket of major currencies. 

Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher said this week he was mindful of the possibility that the central bank’s pledge to keep interest rates at rock-bottom lows for an “extended period” might be fueling the carry trade. That’s when investors use a “cheap” low-yielding currency to fund trades on riskier assets with loftier returns.

Rebalance or else, IMF says

The International Monetary Fund has been warning for years about the risk of global imbalances — namely huge U.S. current account deficits and surpluses in China. Today its chief economist offered a grim view of how the economy might suffer if the rebalancing act fails.

Olivier Blanchard says unless the United States can refocus its economy more toward exports and China more toward imports, the U.S. recovery will probably be anemic because American consumers aren’t going to quickly revert back to their pre-crisis free-spending ways.

And if the recovery is anemic, there will no doubt be intense political pressure for more stimulus, particular in 2010 when most members of Congress face re-election.

from Global Investing:

Yuan vs. Dollar

The United States and China hold economic and strategic talks in Washington starting on July 27. The United States, International Monetary Fund and other groups have urged China to allow its currency to appreciate in order to help unwind global imbalances. Here is a chart showing the Chinese yuan vs the U.S. dollar.

UPDATE: More on U.S.-China economic ties here.

Is it time to ditch the dollar?

Judging from the draft communique of the G8 leaders meeting in L’Aquila, no one is in a particular hurry to talk about ending the domination of the dollar in world  currency reserves.  Our correspondents at the Italian summit report that the debate being pushed by China and others is likely to be played down.

But the genie is out of the bottle. Beforehand, Beijing floated the idea of alternative to the dollar. Russia and Brazil weighed in with some thoughts. The United Nations also acknowledged earlier this year the desire of some countries for a “more efficient reserve system” in a series of proposals for global financial reform.

This issue is laid out in a Q&A here.

What do you think? Is it time to ditch the dollar? Is it doomed as a reserve currency over the long term?

from Summit Notebook:

The Esperanto currency

Hiroshi Watanabe, president of the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, saw his share of dollar buying intervention during decades at the nation's finance ministry.  But the market veteran says despite prevalent talk recently, a shift away from the greenback as the world's reserve currency may be great in theory, but like the language of Esperanto short on daily practitioners.

"Esperanto is a very good language, but no community uses it in its daily life, " Watanabe told the Reuters Japan Investment Summit.

"That's the same situation that applies to the currency... I don't see any other currency that can take the position to replace the key U.S. dollar."

Why are commodities surging?

Interesting take on the rise in commodity prices from Julian Jessop, chief international economist at Capital Economics. The rise has little to do with the weaker dollar and everything to do with expectations of global economic recovery, he says.

The broad-based revival in commodity prices since March clearly reflects a combination of factors. One of these is the pure accounting effect of the depreciation of the dollar. Other things being equal, a fall in the U.S. currency will of course put upward pressure on commodity prices when measured in dollar terms – commodity producers with bills to pay in other currencies such as euros and pounds will require a higher price in dollars, while consumers outside the dollar bloc will be more able to pay that higher price. However, the movements in currencies have generally been small compared to the underlying movements in commodity prices.

Looking closely at the relative performance of different commodities, Jessop reckons the rally has primarily been led by oil and industrial metals, which are the most sensitive to the economic cycle. Inflation-driven commodities such as precious metals, including gold, have underperformed in the rally, he says.