Friday, May 1, 2009

China Wants to Globalize the Yuan

05/01/2009 by Edythe Huang

Just over one week before President Barack Obama and other world leaders met in London for a summit focusing on the global recession, China was making clear it wants a greater say in managing economic policies worldwide.

The latest blast from Beijing in March: a call by China's top central banker, Zhou Xiaochuan, to replace the U.S. dollar with a new global currency.

Zhou: reserve currencies based on a single issuing country just doesn’t work:

    Issuing countries of reserve currencies are constantly confronted with the dilemma between achieving their domestic monetary policy goals and meeting other countries’ demand for reserve currencies. On the one hand the monetary authorities can not simply focus on domestic goals without carrying out their international responsibilities. On the other hand–they cannot pursue different domestic and international objectives at the same time. They may either fail to adequately meet the demand of a growing global economy for liquidity as they tries to ease inflation pressures at home, or create excess liquidity in the global markets by overly stimulating domestic demand.

The goal, Zhou writes in a paper released on the website of the People’s Bank of China on March 23, is to "create an international reserve currency that is disconnected from individual nations and is able to remain stable in the long run."

Zhou suggested the IMF's Special Drawing Rights, or SDR, could serve as a super-sovereign reserve currency.

The idea of an international currency is worth considering. We have a global economy. To facilitate trade, we need an international currency. Zhou’s argument is basically how can we have a truly global economy without a global currency.

Notwithstanding the apparent logic of this argument, the global consensus is the U.S. dollar will not be replaced by an international currency or any other currency including the renminbi in the near future. Here’s why:

First, the U.S. will not give up the U.S dollar’s status as the dominant global currency without a fight. Speaking on March 24 at a congressional hearing in Washington, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geitner and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke both stated on the record they categorically oppose any change in the status quo. Later that day President Obama in responding to Zhou’s “suggestion” to replace the U.S. dollar with a SDR stated, “I don’t believe there is the need for a global currency.”

Second, the U.S. dollar is already established as a the global medium of exchange. Any unseating of the U.S. dollar would signal the end of the U.S.’s stature as the world’s supreme economic power. It would also destabilize the world’s economy given the trillions of dollars of foreign investment in U.S. government securities, the largest current investor in those securities being China.

Third, the most likely successor to the title of global currency is the renminbi. However, the consensus of both Western and Chinese analysts the renminbi is significantly undervalued and China’s financial markets and banking system will not be sufficiently “mature” for the renminbi to be a viable contender for this title for at least another decade.

Notwithstanding these facts the Chinese are uncomfortable holding U.S. dollar denominated foreign reserves and debt. Taxi drivers in big cities such as Beijing and Guangzhou no longer accept U.S. dollars as they did only a year ago. Many Chinese people are looking for alternatives. Maybe they will learn from Jim Rogers, who walks around with gold coins in his pocket (see Jim Rogers video with Bernard Lo) in case the whole financial system collapses.

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