MacroScope

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.”

By looking at the currency denomination of foreign public debt issued by 33 countries from 1914 to 1946, the authors – University of California-Berkeley professor Barry Eichengreen and Livia Chitu and Arnaud Mehl of the European Central Bank – find that dollar-denominated bonds were nearly equal to those priced in sterling by the late 1920s. That’s about two decades earlier than the date assumed by previous scholars.

When stripping out Commonwealth countries that had strong commercial and political links with Britain, the dollar overtook sterling in 1929.

China renminbi as reserve currency: yuan a bet?

China’s importance to the global economy makes it difficult to believe the role of the yuan in foreign exchange will not continue to expand. Will that dominance advance sufficiently to make the Chinese renminbi one of the world’s reserve currencies? A new study from the Brookings Institution suggests that in the long run, the ascendance of the yuan to reserve-currency standing is likely. It notes that of the six largest economies in the world, China is the only one whose currency does not have reserve status. But the road to getting there will be long and tortuous, the study warns, and there will be plenty of potholes.

Getting there will require overcoming two main challenges, according to Eswar Prasad and Lei Ye, who authored the report:

Sequencing of capital account opening with other policies, such as exchange rate flexibility and financial market development, to improve the cost/benefit trade-off.

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."

from Global Investing:

The Big Five: themes for the week ahead

Five things to think about this week:

Q3 - CLUES AND CUES
- Global equity markets started the quarter positioned for economic stabilisation after a strong Q2 performance but, even so, EPFR data shows less than a third of the cash that flooded into money market funds in 2008 has exited in the year to date. The Q2 reporting season, which is about to kick off (Alcoa out this week), will show whether there are reasons for investors to draw down their cash holdings further. The U.S. data that came out before the long July 4 weekend held more negative surprises than positive ones, and macroeconomic confirmation of recovery will be needed to tempt more wary investors into equities.

BOND YIELDS
- Benchmark U.S. and euro zone bond yields broke lower after the U.S. non-farm payroll data but the VIX hit some of its lowest levels post-Lehman and a recent compression of intra-euro zone spreads has yet to go markedly into reverse. Which of these trends turns out to be sustainable will become more evident in the next few weeks, particularly as U.S. supply resumes this week with TIPS, 3, 10, and 30 year auctions.

L'AQUILA SUMMIT
- The slow-burning international reserve currency debate could pop up at the G8/G8+5 big emerging powers summit in Italy this week. China's public stance is that it is not pushing the issue but Beijing also reckons a debate on this would be normal at such a forum. It is unclear if any final statement will mention it in a way that would rattle FX markets. But sideline comments on the debate will be closely watched and particular focus will be on which countries, if any, would be willing to join China, Brazil and Russia in their commitment to buying the IMF SDR notes -- for which crucial groundwork was laid down this week.