MacroScope

Strong euro may be a monster Draghi can’t tame

Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank (ECB), addresses the media during his monthly news conference at the ECB headquarters in FrankfurtECB President Mario Draghi may have created a monster when he declared nearly two years ago that he will do “whatever it takes” to save the euro.

Given that Draghi has now openly pegged the outlook for monetary policy at least partly to the exchange rate, the prospect of both short-term and long-term investors buying the euro is a worrying obstacle for policy.

A rampant euro is anathema to the ECB’s narrow mandate, which is aimed squarely at getting very low inflation back to its target of just below 2 percent. A stronger euro keeps a lid on the price of everything the euro zone imports from abroad. And it makes everything it exports seem relatively more expensive.

The ECB now appears hamstrung between two outcomes, both pointing to a strong euro.

If the euro zone economy relapses from its broadening recovery, and inflation remains dangerously low, speculators may be tempted to try their luck and see how far they can take the euro before a reluctant ECB steps in with a response.

China at a crossroads on yuan internationalization project

As China marks the third anniversary of the first ever bond sale by a foreign company denominated in renminbi, questions are rife on what lies next for the offshore yuan market.

Since hamburger chain McDonalds sold $29 million of bonds on a summer evening just over three years ago, China’s yuan internationalization project has notched up impressive milestones.More than 12 percent of China’s trade is now denominated in yuan from less than 1 percent three years ago, Hong Kong – the vanguard of the offshore yuan movement – has more than one trillion yuan of assets in bank deposits and bonds and central banks from Nigeria to Australia have added a slice of yuan to their foreign exchange reserves.

China’s aim to internationalize the yuan has two major objectives: One, to ensure that its companies do not have to shoulder the foreign exchange risk of swapping yuan into dollars in global trade. The second is that as China gradually makes the transition from a current account surplus nation to a deficit country, it would, like the United States, want its debt to be denominated in its own currency.

Brazil’s foreign reserves are not all that big

Traumatized by several currency crises in the past, Brazil has made a dedicated effort in recent years to amass $374 billion in foreign reserves as China bought mountains of its iron ore and soybeans. When the next crisis came, policymakers figured, the reserves would act as Brazil’s first line of defense.

It turns out that those reserves, which jumped from just $50 billion in 2006, may still not be large enough, Bank of America-Merrill Lynch analysts found in a report on the increased volatility in foreign exchange markets as the U.S. Federal Reserve prepares to scale back part of its monetary stimulus.

Using central bank monthly data on the stock of foreign investments in Brazil, David Beker and Claudio Irigoyen estimated that foreigners hold about $1.2 trillion in Brazil. While most ($785 billion) of that amount consists in longer-term direct investments, portfolio investments such as equities and debt still far exceed the central bank’s reserve cushion at $415 billion.

Brazil’s capital controls and the law of unintended consequences

Brazilian economic policy is fast becoming a shining example of the law of unintended consequences. As activity fades and inflation picks up, the government has tried several different measures to fix the economy – and almost every time, it ended up creating surprise side-effects that made matters worse. Controls on gasoline prices tamed inflation, but opened a hole in the trade balance. Efforts to reduce electricity fares ended up curbing, not boosting, investment plans.

Perhaps that’s the case with yesterday’s surprise decision to scrap a key tax on foreign inflows into fixed-income investments. The so-called IOF tax was one of Brazil’s main defenses in its currency war, making local bonds less appealing to speculators and helping prevent an excessive appreciation of the real.

As the Federal Reserve started to discuss tapering off its massive bond-buying stimulus, investors began to flock back to the United States. So with less need to impose capital controls, Brazil thought it would be a good idea to open its doors again to hot money. Analysts overall also welcomed the move, announced by Finance Minister Guido Mantega in a quick press conference on Tuesday, in which he said that excessive volatility is “not good” for markets and that Brazil was headed to a period of “lesser” intervention in currency markets.

Currency peace: G20 gives BOJ a pass for deflation fight

All the talk of currency wars is mostly just that – talk. This week’s meeting of the Group of 20 nations at the International Monetary Fund was living proof. Despite speculation that emerging nations would redouble their criticism of extraordinarily low rates in advanced economies, the G20 ended up largely supporting the Bank of Japan’s new and bold stimulus efforts aimed at combating years of deflation.

Mr. currency wars himself, Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega, told reporters Japan’s monetary drive was understandable given its struggle with falling prices and stagnant wages, even if he called for close monitoring of its potential spillover effects.

Outgoing Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney said Japan’s action is consistent with the G20 communiqué that called for countries to refrain from competitive devaluation. Carney, the head of the G20′s Financial Stability Board, takes over the Bank of England in July. His comments echo recent remarks from Fed Vice Chair Janet Yellen.

Self-inflicted ‘sudden stop’? Brazil blocked by its own currency war trench

In times of currency wars, it’s best not to shoot yourself in the foot. By imposing several capital controls in the past years, Brazil might have tightened monetary policy right when the economy started to falter, Nomura’s strategist Tony Volpon wrote in a research note on Friday.

Brazil’s mediocre economic growth in the past two years has been a mystery, indeed. Some say it has been due to the global slowdown – which contrasts with steady growth elsewhere in Latin America. Many others blame Brazil’s several supply bottlenecks. But then, why don’t businesses see them as an investment opportunity?

The missing link, Volpon argues, has been the imposition of capital controls. Inflows dropped suddenly, reducing the supply of cheap foreign money available for banks and companies. So, even though the central bank cut local interest rates ten straight times to a record low of 7.25 percent, money supply growth has actually slowed since January 2012.

Brazil: Something’s got to give

How about living in a fast-growing economy with tame inflation, record-low interest rates, stable exchange rate and shrinking public debt. Sounds like paradise, doesn’t it? But Brazil may be starting to realize that this is also impossible.

Inflation hit the highest monthly reading in nearly eight years in January, rising 0.86 percent from December. It also came close to the top-end of the official target, accelerating to a rise of 6.15 percent in the 12 months through January.

That conflicts with key pillars of Brazil’s want-it-all economic policy. The central bank cut interest rates ten straight times through October 2012 to a record-low of 7.25 percent, saying Brazil no longer needed one of the world’s highest borrowing costs. The government also forced a currency depreciation of around 20 percent last year, aiming at boosting exports and stopping a flurry of cheap imports.

Has the Brazilian FX market lost its swing?

Tiago Pariz in Brasilia also contributed to this post.

Brazil’s Trade Minister Fernando Pimentel was the latest authority this week to fire warning shots in a resurging currency war. The government is “focused” on keeping the real at its current level of 2 per U.S. dollar, he told journalists after a meeting with fellow ministers and businessmen.

Using market rules, we are going to try to keep (foreign exchange) rates steady every time the currency is under attack.

These words came days after Finance Minister Guido Mantega admitted Brazil now has a “dirty-floating” regime. “We cannot continue watching as others take ownership of our market and bring down our industry,” he told a local newspaper.

Latin America: the risks of being too attractive

Ironically, an increase of capital inflows to Latin America in the last few years due to unappealing ultralow yields in industrialized countries and the region’s relative economic success is posing a threat for development, according to a recent paper that provides wider background to BRIC criticism of the latest U.S. Federal Reserve´s quantitative easing.

The article, written by Argentine economists Roberto Frenkel and Martin Rapetti for the World Economic Review – an international journal of heterodox economics –  warns about the possibility of a Latin American variant of the so-called “Dutch Disease”. This is a situation where a country suddenly finds a new source of wealth that makes its currency more expensive, hurting local exports and causing traumatic de-industrialization.

“Our concern is that massive capital inflows to Latin America may have pernicious effects via an excessive appreciation of the real exchange rates, which could lead to a contraction in output and employment in tradable activities with negative effects on long-run growth”, says the paper.

Manifest currency? U.S. dollar’s global dominance not set in stone

Incumbency, it is often said, confers many advantages.

Sitting U.S. presidents certainly have reaped its benefits – in the past 80 years, only three have been unseated.

Most economists believe the same benefits apply to reserve currencies. Yes, the U.S. dollar may one day be supplanted as the leading international currency, the thinking goes, but that day is many decades away.

Then again, maybe not.

A new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research that looks more closely at the dollar’s own rise to the top in the 20th century suggests, among other things, that “the advantages of incumbency are not all they are cracked up to be.”