The yen, the dollar and the yuan

Another step in the global trade war/currency crisis and U.S. dollar devaluation that we’ve been forecasting for the past decade. This Japan/China accord is the Asian trading bloc predictably coming together in the incipient global trade war.

But the incipient global equity Supercycle Bear Market will be accompanied with a rising“safe-haven” status U.S. dollar – up to DXY0 mid- to high 80s (which is why months ago we recommended taking U.S. dollar short profits in low-volatility, foreign-currency-based money market funds like ICPHX) – that will exacerbate the global trade war as each of the three global-trading blocs try to accelerate their export growth to reflate their recessionary economies. We fully expect the U.S. will become very frustrated and finally figure out to win the export growth game it will to succumb to a “last hurrah” formal devaluation ending the U.S. dollar status as the sole central bank reserve currency since WWII in some sort of Bretton Woods-like agreement under a replacement of Treasury Secretary Geithner.

See Economists React: China-Japan Currency Pact:

“China and Japan announced a wide-ranging currency accord on Christmas day that is expected to give the yuan a more prominent role in international trade. Among the measures, the two countries agreed to promote direct yuan-yen trade, rather than converting their currencies first to dollars, and also for Japan to hold yuan in its foreign-exchange reserves

-Barry Eichengreen, University of California at Berkeley:

I think the new accord is squarely in line with China’s strategy for internationalizing the yuan, which is to proceed in stages: first encourage its use in trade invoicing and settlement, then encourage its use in international investment, and lastly encourage its use as international reserves. They’ve been moving unilaterally to implement the strategy, most recently permitting offshore holders of yuan to invest in the Chinese stock market.

What’s new here is that they are working with and have the support of the Japanese government, which seems to be acknowledging implicitly that there will be a single dominant Asian currency in the future and that it won’t be the yen.

-Jeffrey Frankel, Harvard University

Before the yuan becomes a true international currency, let alone rivaling the dollar, it must become a normal currency. I would interpret the increased use of the yuan in China’s international trade as indicating movement toward becoming a normal currency.

If this new initiative with Japan were indeed to result in substantial bilateral trading between the yuan and yen directly, without intermediate use of the dollar, that would represent a big leap in international status, since almost all currencies have to go through the dollar as a vehicle currency.

Bottom line: This hastens a multi-currency world. But this is just one of 100 steps along the way.

WSJ: How would this affect the U.S. dollar and U.S. economy?

Internationalization of the yuan and a move toward a multiple currency system would by definition reduce the share of the dollar as an international currency. . . . If the yuan becomes internationalized, this will almost certainly be associated with an appreciation against the dollar. [Bob Bronson: After the global equity Supercycle Bear Market ends]

Overall, an appreciation of the yuan against the dollar would be good for the U.S. economy – especially during this current period of high U.S. unemployment, slow U.S. growth, and rock-bottom interest rates (though still nowhere near as important as U.S. congressmen think it is). Incidentally, I also think it would be good for the Chinese economy.

Of course, as with any exchange-rate change, there is always the flip side: the possibility of higher U.S. inflation and higher U.S. interest rates. [BB: Nope!]

Regarding a continuation, or acceleration, of the slow, 40-year trend [BB: It has only been 26 years since 1985] away from dollar hegemony toward a multiple currency system, it does have some negative effect, which I classify in four areas: loss of seigniorage, loss of business for U.S. banks and financial institutions, reduced convenience for U.S. businessmen (and tourists), and loss of geopolitical power and prestige. [That’s already happening, especially under Obama.]

But if these trends continue, the currency question will be more of a symptom than a cause. The cause lies in long-term fiscal unsustainability, imperial overreach and other U.S. policy mistakes, many of them attributed to the famous “partisan gridlock.” [More so due to the superior economic growth rate of the other two trading blocs since WWII, especially pan-Asia.]

Morris Goldstein, Peterson Institute for International Economics [His comments are the most sophisticated of the three]

The China-Japan initiatives will obviously increase the regional use of the yuan, although much depends on their scale and timing. That said, I don’t see them as game changers in the broader issue of if and to what extent the yuan becomes a serious rival to the dollar as the dominant global currency.

To do the latter, China would need to be willing to take some fundamental policy decisions, including changing its market intervention and sterilization strategy, undertaking interest rate liberalization, building a larger corporate bond market, reducing much further restrictions on international capital flows, and putting the banking system on a more market-oriented basis — to say nothing about avoiding a crash due to excessive investment in real estate.

Each of those policy choices involves tough trade-offs and reform on the whole package is likely to be some time down the road.

So yes, we are moving to a more multiple-currency world, but it is likely to be a slow process and is not likely to accelerate until China is prepared to give up much more to obtain much wider international use of the yuan.

I don’t think the US should either encourage or discourage it; it should allow the market to choose. Besides the international role of the dollar depends much more on what we do (e.g., U.S. fiscal reform) than on these kinds of yen/yuan initiatives.

I think the international role of the dollar is a moderate plus for the U.S. but this latest initiative is not something the U.S. needs to react too; this is a long-distance race not a sprint.

–Bob Davis

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