Thursday, 7 October 2010

Currency wars ! China warns against rapid rise in yuan, IMF warms, Global central banks may act, Weak US dollar fuels financial bubble fears !

Wen Jiabao tells EU to stop pressuring Beijing to revalue the yuan or risk unleashing serious social unrest in China
Wen Jiabao 
China's Wen Jiabao rejected calls for a rapid appreciation of the yuan. Photograph: Koji Sasahara/AP
The war of words over international currency valuations escalated yesterday when the Chinese premier Wen Jiabao told the European Union to stop pressuring Beijing to revalue the yuan as any rapid shift risked unleashing serious social unrest in China.

Speaking in Brussels, Wen said that China would move towards making its currency more flexible but he rejected calls for a rapid appreciation as the issue threatened to dominate this weekend's meeting of the International Monetary Fund and G7 countries in Washington.

"Do not work to pressurise us on the renminbi [yuan] rate," Wen said, departing from a prepared speech on the sidelines of a summit with EU leaders. "Yes, we are going to proceed with the reforms."

China has been criticised by the EU and even more so by the US for pegging its currency at a low level, meaning that its exports are cheaper worldwide, hindering the efforts of western nations to recover from recession via export-led growth.

But Wen said yesterday that China's trade surplus with the US was explained by the specific structures of the two economies, not the yuan exchange rate.

He noted that a US congressman had predicted social unrest in China if there was a rapid rise in the yuan. "Many of our exporting companies would have to close down," Wen said. "Migrant workers would have to return to their villages. If China saw social and economic turbulence, then it would be a disaster for the world."

His remarks come as finance ministers from the G7 are about to discuss growing concerns over currency wars on the sidelines of the annual IMF gathering in Washington on Friday.

Timothy Geithner, the US treasury secretary who visited China earlier this year to plead the case for a higher yuan, said in Washington that a "damaging dynamic" of large economies keeping their currencies undervalued can cause inflation and asset bubbles. He called on countries to co-ordinate their policies.

"More and more countries face stronger pressure to lean against the market forces pushing up the value of their currencies," he said yesterday at the Brookings Institution in Washington. He said currencies are "inherently a multilateral issue. It's much easier to solve if countries come together and do things to complement each other.

Geithner's comments echoed calls by the IMF for greater currency flexibility. The organisation's chief waded into the row, warning governments against using exchange rates as a weapon. Dominique Strauss-Kahn told the Financial Times: "There is clearly the idea beginning to circulate that currencies can be used as a policy weapon. Translated into action, such an idea would represent a very serious risk to the global recovery … any such approach would have a negative and very damaging longer-run impact."

The Bank of Japan reinstated its zero interest-rate policy and pledged to buy ¥5tn (£37bn) of assets, leading to a drop in the yen. In recent weeks it has also intervened in the currency markets to weaken the yen for the first time in six years, although the impact was short-lived.

Brazil has threatened intervention to weaken the real. On Monday, it doubled a tax on foreign investors buying local bonds to put a lid on a recent rally in its currency. Brazil's finance minister, Guido Mantega, coined the phrase "international currency war" last week, following a series of interventions by central banks in Japan, South Korea, Switzerland and Taiwan to make their currencies cheaper.

Strauss-Kahn appeared to refer to Mantega's comments when he said: "We have seen reports that some emerging countries whose economies face big capital inflows are saying that maybe it is time to use their currencies to try to gain an advantage, particularly on the trade side. I don't think that is a good solution."

The weak dollar and expectations that the US Federal Reserve may announce stimulus measures pushed gold to a new record high yesterday. Spot gold hit $1,349.80 an ounce. Silver soared to a fresh 30-year high and platinum reached a four-and-a-half-month peak.

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IMF warns against currency war, dollar heads lower

 A growing drive by nations to cap the strength of their currencies risks derailing the world economic recovery !

LONDON: The head of the IMF warned that a growing drive by nations to cap the strength of their currencies risked derailing economic recovery while the dollar dropped further on Wednesday.

Concerns that the Federal Reserve is about to embark on another round of policy easing that could weaken the dollar, tallied with China's polite refusal to let its yuan rise fast, has pushed currencies to the top of the agenda at Friday's meeting of finance chiefs from the Group of Seven nations.

Few hold out much hope of any meaningful agreement at the G7 or the International Monetary Fund meeting that follows.

"It's doing nothing for the American economy, but it's causing chaos over the rest of the world. It's a very strange policy that they are pursuing," Nobel economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz said of US policy.

The dollar extended its losses on Wednesday, falling to an 8-1/2 month low against a basket of currencies and edging toward a 15-year trough versus the yen.

That trend prompted Japan to intervene to weaken the yen last month and some emerging economies have followed suit or are threatening to.

"There is clearly the idea beginning to circulate that currencies can be used as a policy weapon," IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn was quoted as saying in Wednesday's edition of the Financial Times.

"Translated into action, such an idea would represent a very serious risk to the global recovery ... Any such approach would have a negative and very damaging longer-run impact," he said.

The IMF, which holds its twice-yearly meeting in Washington this weekend, is also expected to discuss foreign exchange moves as part of its mission to get countries working for balanced global growth.

Brendan Brown, economist at Mitsubishi UFJ Securities International in London, said the Fund, which has the United States as its biggest stakeholder, would not try to prevent further US monetary easing or a resulting slide of the dollar.

"That Washington institution has failed in its central mission to prevent currency war ," he wrote in a report.

CHINA UNMOVED

Euro zone policymakers urged Chinese premier Wen Jiabao on Tuesday to allow the yuan to rise more rapidly, but he politely rebuffed them, repeating Beijing's standard line on seeking currency stability.

Wen was due to hold a joint news conference with EU leaders in Brussels at 1515 GMT.

Policymakers have highlighted the issue of global imbalances for years, with fundamental problems seen as the dollar's global dominance, China's overvalued yuan and Germany's lack of domestic consumption.

Emerging nations say the cash flows seen this year have damaged their exports due to the determination of major economies to restrain their own currencies' levels.

But entrenched positions make it unlikely that officials sitting down to IMF and G7 meetings this weekend, and G20 meetings later in the year, will resolve their differences. 
Brazil fired the latest shot in what it has dubbed an "international currency war," doubling on Monday a tax on foreign investors buying local bonds to 4 per cent to curb a strong real.

Policymakers from emerging Asian economies have voiced growing concerns about the risk of a flood of hot money inflows. South Korea warned investors it might impose further limits on forward trading and India and Thailand said they were looking at steps to control speculative surges.

"It's natural in that context for them to say -- we can't just let our exchange rates appreciate and destroy our exports," Stiglitz told reporters at Columbia University on Tuesday.

MORE FED EASING?

Adding to speculation that the Federal Reserve will soon extend asset purchases to pump money into the economy, Chicago Fed President Charles Evans was quoted as saying the central bank should do much more to spur the economy.

And in a surprise move, Japan pulled interest rates on the yen back to zero on Tuesday and pledged to pump more funds into an economy struggling to compete while the currency remains close to a 15-year high against the dollar.

The euro gained 7.6 per cent versus the dollar last month as Fed easing speculation hotted up. Europeans are worried they will be saddled with an overvalued currency, stifling recovery, because they have few tools to contain the euro's rise.

France, which takes over the presidency of the Group of 20 major economic powers next month, has put reforming the international monetary system at the top of its agenda, hoping to draw China into multilateral talks on currency coordination.

Global Central Bank Action May Follow BOJ Moves

 The Bank of Japan may have acted first in a new round of central bank action to prop up the global economy as recoveries in industrial nations falter.

The unexpected decision by the Japanese central bank yesterday to drop its interest rate to “virtually zero” and expand its balance sheet follows the U.S. Federal Reserve’s move toward more unconventional easing. Bank of England officials will consider further stimulus tomorrow, while the central banks of Australia, Canada and New Zealand are among those now holding fire on further interest-rate increases.

The renewed push for easier monetary policy comes as the International Monetary Fund warns growth in advanced economies is falling short of its forecasts ahead of its annual meetings in Washington this week. The dilemma for policy makers is that their actions may do little to revive growth and end up roiling currency markets.

“The Bank of Japan is at the head of the pack,” said Stewart Robertson, an economist at Aviva Investors in London, which manages about $370 billion in assets. “It looks like a lot of others will follow. Whether it’s right or not is another matter.”

Group of Seven ministers will gather Oct. 8 in Washington, on the sidelines of the IMF meeting. Currency issues will be discussed, Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who will chair the meeting, said this week. Japanese Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda said he’s ready to explain his country’s actions at that meeting.

BOJ Move.

The Bank of Japan cut its overnight call rate target from 0.1 percent and established a 5 trillion yen ($60 billion) fund to buy government bonds and other assets. It moved as the yen’s surge to a 15-year high last month hurts exports and damps economic growth. The yen traded at 83.13 per dollar at 2:32 p.m. in Tokyo, close to a Sept. 15 record of 82.88.

The central bank said today that weaker exports and slower global growth are causing the nation’s rebound to moderate. “Japan’s economy shows signs of a moderate recovery, but the pace of recovery is slowing down,” the bank said in a monthly economic report released in Tokyo.

‘Vicious Spiral’

Bank of Japan Governor Masaaki Shirakawa may not be alone for long in taking action and Daiwa Institute of Research argues he’s now engaged in a “vicious spiral” of monetary easing with the Fed as both compete to bolster their economies.

“The BOJ’s next moves will depend on the Fed,” said Maiko Noguchi, an economist at Daiwa in Tokyo. “The bank will have no choice but steadily take easing measures.”

Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and his colleagues have signaled they may announce the purchase of more Treasuries as soon as their next policy meeting on Nov. 2-3 in an effort to boost growth and reduce an unemployment rate stuck near 10 percent for the past year.

“The irony is that the Fed is creating all this liquidity with the hope that it will revive the U.S. economy. It is doing nothing for the U.S. economy and causing chaos for the rest of the world,” Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize- winning professor at New York’s Columbia University, said today in New York.

Quantitative Easing

Bernanke said on Oct. 4 that the Fed had aided the economy by buying $1.75 trillion of mortgage debt and Treasuries from August 2008 through March 2010. Pacific Investment Management Co. says a new round of quantitative easing, the policy of creating money by enlarging the central bank’s balance sheet, is “likely.”

“The bottom line for the U.S. is a growth trajectory so slow you’d nearly call it stalled,” Paul McCulley, a portfolio investor at Pacific Investment Management Co., wrote on the company’s website this week.

Steven Englander, New York-based head of Group of 10 currency strategy at Citigroup Inc., said he anticipates the dollar will continue to fall, with the euro likely to pass through $1.40 from $1.37 yesterday. The dollar has already dropped 7 percent against the euro since the start of September.

Asset Purchases

At the Bank of England, policy maker Adam Posen made the strongest call yet on Sept. 28 for the U.K. central bank to resume asset purchases after keeping its bond-buying program at 200 billion pounds ($317 billion) for the past 11 months. That proposal lays the ground for the first three-way split when the Monetary Policy Committee meets tomorrow, with member Andrew Sentance advocating higher interest rates.

“At the present time, the growth threat is more of a danger than inflation,” said Graeme Leach, chief economist at the Institute of Directors, a London-based business lobby group. “Yes, inflation is above target now. But a double-dip recession would raise the specter of deflation.”

The revival of quantitative easing is a reversal from earlier this year, when central banks were halting stimulus or debating how to tighten policy. What’s changed is the loss of momentum in industrial economies.

Global Slowdown

John Lipsky, the IMF’s No. 2 official, said on Sept. 27 that global growth in the second half of the year will fall short of the fund’s 3.75 percent forecast. The Washington- based lender revises its outlook today.

While not yet looking to buy assets, some central banks are suspending their interest-rate increase campaigns.
After embarking on the most aggressive policy tightening in the Group of 20, the Reserve Bank of Australia unexpectedly left its benchmark rate unchanged yesterday at 4.5 percent for a fifth straight month. Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney, who has overseen three rate hikes this year, said Sept. 30 that “the unusual uncertainty surrounding the outlook warrants caution.”

Not all policy makers are changing course. The central banks of Israel and Taiwan raised borrowing costs in the last ten days and the European Central Bank, whose Governing Council convenes tomorrow in Frankfurt, has indicated it wants to continue withdrawing liquidity support for banks.

‘Fully On’

The ECB will be forced to postpone tighter policy as European exports fade and investors continue to fret about peripheral euro-area economies such as Portugal and Ireland, said Silvio Peruzzo, an economist at Royal Bank of Scotland Group Inc. in London.

“The ECB’s exit strategy is fully on, but the business cycle will turn against them,” said Peruzzo. “The communication will then be adjusted to consider downside risks greater than what they have anticipated.”

The ECB last week stepped up its government bond purchases as the cost of insuring against default on Portuguese government debt surged to a record and Irish bond spreads soared to euro-era highs.

Bolster Expansion

The question for those central banks leaning toward buying more assets is whether doing so will actually bolster expansion, said Charles Dumas, director of international research at Lombard Street Research Ltd., a London-based consultancy.

“Is quantitative easing going to cause people to spend more? I don’t think so,” he said. “It does add value in reducing the risk of a downward spiral in markets.”

Another risk is that the use of unconventional monetary policy is viewed as an effort to weaken currencies to boost exports, rising competitive devaluations and protectionist responses, said Eric Chaney, chief economist at AXA Group in Paris. Japan, Switzerland and Brazil are among the countries that have already intervened in markets to restrain their exchange rates.

“This is close to a currency war,” said Chaney, a former official at the French France Ministry. “It’s not through exchange-rate manipulation, but through monetary policies.”

© Copyright 2010 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

Weak US dollar fuels financial bubble fears!

By IZWAN IDRIS  October 7, 2010
izwan@thestar.com.my,

Emerging markets stepping up measures to control speculation!

PETALING JAYA: There is rising concern that the weak US dollar is fuelling new financial bubbles in emerging markets.

A growing number of Asian and South American countries, whose currencies had seen unwarranted appreciation, are stepping up control to curb speculative short term investments from overseas.

The flood of investment money into emerging market is expected to reach US$825bil this year, according to the latest estimate by Institute of International Finance (IIF) on Monday.

This is higher than the previous forecast of US$709bil it made in April. Last year’s figure was US$581bil.

The Malaysian ringgit, like other emerging market currencies, has been rising steadily against the greenback. — AP
 
Analysts expect capital flows from advanced economies into emerging markets to remain strong as long as central banks in developed nations continue to pursue a loose monetary policy.

Earlier this week, South Korea and Brazil announced plans to increase measures aimed at discouraging disruptive capital flows.

CIMB Research, in a recent note, said instead of imposing tough capital controls on inflows, central banks in South Korea, Taiwan and Indonesia had implemented quasi-capital controls by restricting currency derivatives and imposing a minimum holding period.

But the trend in capital flows from advanced economies into emerging markets will likely continue because the widening yield gap is in the emerging markets’ favour.

Growth prospects are also stronger and there are lingering worries about sovereign credit quality in mature economies,

CIMB Research said the “push and pull” factors are reinforcing competition to attract private capital flows into emerging economies.

Reuters reported yesterday that the falling dollar had escalated a global currency war, and that the exchange rate issue was now expected to top the agenda as finance officials from around the globe meet this week starting with those from the Group of 7 tomorrow followed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) over the weekend.

Ultra low interest rates in Europe and Japan and concerns that the US Federal Reserve is about to embark on another round of money printing could weaken the dollar further.

This could result in further appreciation of emerging market currencies to a point that it would start to hurt exports.

London’s Financial Times reported yesterday that the head of IMF had warned that governments were risking currency wars if they tried to use exchange rates to solve domestic problems.

At the same time, emerging countries are also increasingly edgy about the flood of capital inflows from advanced economies.

The massive inflows had sent Asian stock indices, as well as their currencies, to or near record highs.
“If the situation continues for a while and Asian currencies continue to appreciate, there is a possibility that emerging Asian economies may have to do something to protect their interests.

“This may lead to, perhaps, some form of tax on capital inflows,’’ said Peck Boon Soon, an economist at RHB Research Institute.

In his report, Peck noted that overseas investors held 27% of Indonesia’s local currency government debts as at end-July, compared with 16% a year earlier.

In Malaysia, foreigners owned 18.8% in July versus 10% a year earlier.

Demand for Asian currency-denominated debts was so huge that the Philippines’ US$1bil worth of peso bonds directed at global investors was oversubscribed by 13 times.

Investors were so bullish that the Philippines was able to sell the bonds at just 5% yield. Based on Moody’s Investors Service’s calculation, the yield implied the bonds were rated at A3 by investors, which was six notches higher than the firm’s rating.

The weak US dollar also boosted the price of gold – viewed by some as the leading reserve currency – to a new all-time high of US$1,349.80 an ounce yesterday.

At home, the ringgit rose for the first time in two days to 3.0925 against the US dollar. The local currency hit a 13-year high at 3.085 last week.