Crisis Diary as it unfolds ….

China’s call for global currency and who said what?

Chinese Central bank now wants to get rid of its US$ and has called for a global currency.

Wall Street journal

China called for the creation of a new currency to eventually replace the dollar as the world’s standard, proposing a sweeping overhaul of global finance that reflects developing nations’ growing unhappiness with the U.S. role in the world economy.

The unusual proposal, made by central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan in an essay released Monday in Beijing, is part of China’s increasingly assertive approach to shaping the global response to the financial crisis.

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Mr. Zhou isn’t the first to make that argument. “The dollar reserve system is part of the problem,” Joseph Stiglitz, the Columbia University economist, said in a speech in Shanghai last week, because it meant so much of the world’s cash was funneled into the U.S. “We need a global reserve system,” he said in the speech.

Dr. Krugman says China is stuck with dollars and now is looking for easy way out.

The big news last week was a speech by Zhou Xiaochuan, the governor of China’s central bank, calling for a new “super-sovereign reserve currency.”

The paranoid wing of the Republican Party promptly warned of a dastardly plot to make America give up the dollar. But Mr. Zhou’s speech was actually an admission of weakness. In effect, he was saying that China had driven itself into a dollar trap, and that it can neither get itself out nor change the policies that put it in that trap in the first place.

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Two years ago, we lived in a world in which China could save much more than it invested and dispose of the excess savings in America. That world is gone.

Yet the day after his new-reserve-currency speech, Mr. Zhou gave another speech in which he seemed to assert that China’s extremely high savings rate is immutable, a result of Confucianism, which values “anti-extravagance.” Meanwhile, “it is not the right time” for the United States to save more. In other words, let’s go on as we were.

That’s also not going to happen.

The bottom line is that China hasn’t yet faced up to the wrenching changes that will be needed to deal with this global crisis. The same could, of course, be said of the Japanese, the Europeans — and us.
And that failure to face up to new realities is the main reason that, despite some glimmers of good news — the G-20 summit accomplished more than I thought it would — this crisis probably still has years to run.

Brad Setser adds more to what Dr. Krugman had to say

China’s 2007-2008 bet on global equities and riskier bonds likely cost it north of $50 billion — it all depends on exactly how much of its portfolio it put into risk assets. To be sure, it is in far better shape than Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan, which lost a staggering 40% on its fixed income portfolio. Most of China’s reserves were in safe government bonds, and those bonds increased in value over the course of the crisis. But as Arvind Subramanian notes, China’s currency losses will eventually dwarf its equity market losses.

Those losses shouldn’t be a surprise. Currency losses on unneeded reserves are the price a country pays for subsidizing its exports with an undervalued exchange rate. But that doesn’t make it any easier to accept the losses – or to handle the inevitable argument that China’s leaders squandered China’s reserves.

China’s leaders are setting the stage to argue that these losses are the fault of bad US policies. They aren’t. They are the result of China’s own policy choices. Subramanian correctly observes “[China] is seeing itself as the victim of the dollar standard when it has been, for a long time, a beneficiary and promoter of this standard.” China’s leaders, though, have no incentive to recognize this.

But even if China didn’t explicitly plan to build up to many reserves, it now has them — and China’s leaders are no doubt interested in using them to increase China’s influence.

It isn’t hard to think of creative ways China could use its reserves to increase its global position. China alone could provide all the extra $500 billion the IMF now needs if it wanted to do so. Or it could set up a Chinese monetary fund to compete with the IMF.

To date, China has been fairly cautious, generally turning down countries that trekked to Beijing to appeal for emergency loans – though the recent expansion of RMB swap lines suggests that China may now be willing to take more risks. One potential problem: China would need to explain to its own citizens why it is using its reserves to help other countries rather than doing more at home.*

And then there is the elephant in the room: Will China’s large dollar holdings — and the fact that is is now the United States largest creditor — give it any influence over US policy?

No matter how this whole situation turns out, what China is going to do with its massive dollar reserves will decide the future of the US, the world financial system and US-China relationship. A lot depends on how China behave from here on.

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April 5, 2009 Posted by | News, Opinions | , , , , , | Leave a comment

China conundrum

Here is a great blogpost by Brad Setser explaining China America relationship and how the interests of the two economies are diverging.

Three final observations:

1) The US needs financing, but China also needs markets for its exports. The “balance of financial terror” is such that China cannot reduce its financing of the US without also reducing the market for its exports. That limits China’s options. My own guess is that China is more constrained than in the past, as it presumably doesn’t want to do anything with its reserves that would add to the global slump in demand for Chinese goods. If hot money outflows subside, China will almost certainly need to continue to add to its reserves. And China’s ability to shift its reserves from dollar to the euro is also constrained by its desire to maintain good relations with its European trading partners. Key eurozone countries wouldn’t appreciate a big euro rally right now induced by a surge in Chinese purchases, especially if China maintained its dollar peg during the process.
2) China’s currency has appreciated significantly in real terms even as the pace of its appreciation against the dollar has slowed. That implies more not less friction between the US and China. China was willing to allow the RMB to go up against the dollar when the dollar was going down against other currencies and other countries were snapping up more Chinese goods. Now that the dollar is going up and Chinese exports are going down, China is reluctant to allow the RMB to appreciate at all against the dollar. But the US naturally cares far more about the RMB’s value against the dollar than its value against other currencies.
3) Even though China’s currency has appreciated significantly in real terms recently, most real exchange rate indices put it only a bit above its levels in 2000. The expansion of China’s current account surplus since then – and the huge increase in China’s exports since then — suggests that the RMB remains fundamentally undervalued. Other Aisan countries exports are actually falling faster than China’s exports. But the RMB’s real appreciation clearly came at a less than opportune time. The RMB was weak in real terms when China’s domestic economy was strong, and now it is getting stronger when China’s domestic economy is slowing sharply.

The US — a large deficit country — would benefit in a lot of ways if it could export its way out of trouble. That would also help to bring the world closer to balance. Yet with its own economy slowing sharply, China’s willingness to accept a stronger RMB has likely gone down. Here, US and Chinese interests diverge. Both want to draw on external demand to support their own growth.

Fortunately it is a littler harder to see why China would think that a major fiscal stimulus isn’t in its interests …

January 25, 2009 Posted by | Crisis Snapshot | , , | Leave a comment

China takes the lead in race to embrace socialism

China, with announcement of its massive stimulus package, has taken lead – and very gleefully so – in a race to embrace socialism.
New York Times says:

At a time when major infrastructure projects are being put off around the world, China said it would spend an estimated $586 billion over the next two years — roughly 7 percent of its gross domestic product each year — to construct new railways, subways and airports and to rebuild communities devastated by an earthquake in the southwest in May.

So when the world is slowing down, China wants to build roads, railways, homes, bridges and be ready with increased potential to rock the world stage again when things get back on track. At least, that looks like the Beijing gameplan. Also, Beijing might be looking to spend its amassed US$ as long as they are accepted and carry some purchasing power in the market place. It’s a beautiful plan in perfect world, but is communist world anywhere near being perfect?
The sheer size of the package, almost 7% of
China‘s GDP, is what surprised most. But it is really unclear how much of this package is on top of already planned spending. If that net factor isn’t substantial, which probably is the case, this announcement is not more than a public statement to show the intent to act.
Never the less. it should be interesting to see how export oriented centrally-planned economy of
China fares when circumstances force it to look inwards and look for domestic growth.

November 10, 2008 Posted by | News | , , , | Leave a comment