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The LIBOR Manipulation, Who’s To Blame: Bankers Or The Process?

ImageThe LIBOR (London Interbank Offer Rate) is currently the centre of attention after the City Regulator ordered its biggest ever fine – £290 million penalty – to Barclays for manipulating the LIBOR rate.

Indeed, the recent revelations of the alleged manipulation of the LIBOR by most of the major banks have made this interest rate the top topic in the news around the world. However for me, the ultimate question is (as it has always been since April 2008 when the LIBOR stopped being in line with the UK base rate) to know whether the issue was actually the operator (i.e. the bankers) or the way the LIBOR is calculated/consolidated (i.e. the process).

Since 2007 at the beginning of the global financial crisis , I have been following the LIBOR rate. In April 2008, I started questioning the way the LIBOR was calculated as it started falling dramatically (at 2.48% from 4.22% in January 2008 and 5.27% in September 2007) and was no longer in line with the UK base rate (which was at 5% in April 2008). Although it must be said that the LIBOR does not necessarily always have to be in line with the base rate, I am however increasingly vindicated in my concerns with regards to the way Thomson Reuters (on behalf of the BBA) gather and consolidate data in order to reveal the daily LIBOR rate. Source of data: http://www.bbalibor.com/bba  

In practice, Thomson Reuters calculates and distributes LIBOR on behalf of the BBA. The BBA names the panel banks that submit the rates to Thomson Reuters and also sets the methodology Thomson Reuters follows for the calculation. Every morning Thomson Reuters receives the contributions electronically from the panel banks. It performs a series of high-level validity checks following the criteria set and agreed with the BBA. The rates contributed by the panel banks are meant to answer the question: “At what rate could you borrow funds …?”

Not too bad as a method of calculation but could it be more accurate & transparent?

Indeed, instead of relying on a panel of surveyed banks that provide data on their prospects of borrowing along with their forecast of liquidity which later are consolidated by an agency, would it not be more sensible to have a system where the actual rates of borrowing between banks are automatically recorded as transactions take place? Banks / financial institutions lending to each other at different rates …, the consolidation would ultimately and automatically takes place when financial markets close, thereby producing a rate that would be the market’s opening price?

I can already hear some critics arguing that the LIBOR rate is different from other rates or index values as this is solidly linked to the level of liquidity in circulation. But wait a minute, the same principle applies: if the rate falls below its real value, this will mean that there was plenty of liquidity in such a way that it became cheap … the rate will progressively appreciate as liquidity will become rare and the cycle will start again.

I can hear some others arguing that not all banks will be on the automated electronic system, thus some transactions will be missed out and therefore jeopardise the accuracy of the LIBOR. Hang on; does the current method include all banks? Is it not just a panel of banks set by the BBA?

Other critics suggest that the separation of the retail and investment banking is the ultimate solution. I have to admit that, although this would be a giant step towards resolving the current banking crisis, it would not however help to strengthen the current system in terms of the calculation of the LIBOR. Indeed, most of the so called retail banking products such as mortgages rely on the LIBOR rate; thus being able to manipulate the LIBOR will definitely impact both investment banking as well as retail banking.

With the current system, banks have been manipulating the Libor so as to get funds at a cheaper rate and to lift up gains on trading positions they hold. At this defining moment where we are still in the economic & financial tornado started in 2007 and generated by banks / financial institutions and where there have been some financial scandals (the alleged mis-selling of PPI & Interest Rate Swaps), we cannot really expect Imagebank professionals to suddenly change and no longer be greedy, no longer try to manipulate figures etc, can we? That would be very naïve. At the end of the day bankers are made to make money!  On top of all this, the recent IT issue that prevented millions of banks users (not only RBS/NatWest users – some other bank users could not receive payments as they were paid from a RBS/NatWest bank account) from accessing money has not helped to restore trust.

It is therefore pretty clear that bankers are not likely to deviate from their “raison d’être” that is “making money”. The only way to get this fixed is by making the process as robust as possible.

This paper is a first step of an article that I am preparing on the LIBOR System. This is a first thought aiming to raise questions. For example, is this the time to think about another process of calculating the LIBOR or should we stick to the current system expecting that the FSA (the first to blame in my opinion), the BBA and to some extent the Bank of England and the SFO would finally start doing their job properly?

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July 8, 2012 Posted by | Articles In English, Economics, International Business, International Finance | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Floating Regime: Myth or Reality?

As you might be aware, The Swiss National Bank decided yesterday 06/09/2011 to peg the Swiss franc against the Euro (CHF 1.20 per Euro) in an attempt to weaken its currency and protect its economy. The SNB has also pledged to buy foreign currencies to force down the value of the Swiss franc and has warned that it would no longer allow 1 CHF to be worth more than € 0.83.

For me, this implies a high level of intervention into markets and thus raises a lot of questions: with American, China, and now Switzerland setting fixed values for their currencies by strictly monitoring it, are we still within the floating regime where market forces were supposed to determine currency values? We know that even in normal circumstances, Central Bank normally intervenes to stabilise its currency; but to this extent? Having a goal of a fixed rate set by a central bank?  Are we about to witness a currency war as Japan also recently revealed their plan of selling the yen and pledge to inject liquidity? Should we therefore rename the “floating regime” to a “managed float regime”?

To be continued …

September 7, 2011 Posted by | Articles In English, Economics, International Economics, International Finance | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rencontre Chine – Etats-Unis: Monnaie Et Politique De Change Au Cœur Des Discussions

Ce matin donc commençait la visite officielle du président chinois Hu Jintao aux Etats-Unis où il a été reçu dans la journée par son homologue américain Barack Obama.

Comme de coutume, dans ce genre de rencontre, la conférence de presse est de mise avec ses courtoisies, le respect mutuel, des compliments partagés etc etc… Pourtant en toile de fond on dirait deux experts de la Finance Internationale : l’un prônant un système de change totalement décidé par les forces du marché et donc totalement flottant, Barack Obama pour ne las le citer ; et l’autre bien qu’implicitement, défendant un change relativement contrôlé avec une marge de fluctuation très étroite.

Alors pour mieux comprendre les enjeux sous-tendant les positions de l’un comme de l’autre, je me suis prêté au jeu « avantages & inconvénients » de chacun des systèmes.

Si les avantages d’un système de change flottant – correction automatique, moins de problèmes de liquidités internationales et de réserves, commerce international mieux équilibré, protection automatique vis-à-vis des chocs externes- font quasiment l’unanimité de nos jours ; les avantages attribués à un système de change fixe ou contrôlé ne seraient pas aussi nocifs à l’économie à en croire Hu Jintao.

Tout d’abord la politique chinoise de change…

Depuis le 1er Janvier 1994, le Yuan chinois est ancré au Dollar américain sur la base d’une parité fixée à 8,277 yuan pour un dollar avec une marge de fluctuation très étroite (+/- 0,3%). Depuis 1994, la monnaie est convertible mais pas pleinement et les mesures de contrôle des changes sont extrêmement strictes avec pour objectif principal le maintien de la stabilité monétaire permettant de garantir une croissance élevée et une « prospérité sociale ». Entre autre mesures, la banque centrale chinoise est dans l’obligation d’acheter ou de vendre du dollar – fonction de la situation – pour maintenir la parité fixe yuan/dollar. Et bien sûr la maintenir à un niveau sous évalué.

Aussi, la chine par des lois taillées sur mesure, non seulement n’autorise pas les résidents étrangers, en particuliers les traders et banques américaines à investir des capitaux en chine, mais en plus rend l’action de ces derniers pratiquement  impossible sur les marchés des changes et de capitaux chinois. Car si ceux-ci parvenaient à placer librement leur dollars désormais bon marché (dollar américain) en chine comme ils le font au Brésil ou en Inde afin de percevoir des rémunérations relativement élevées que celles qu’ils percevraient en plaçant ces fonds aux Etats-Unis ; ceci aurait pour effet  à termes d’accroitre la demande du yuan chinois et si soumis à la loi de l’offre et de la demande, d’accroitre sa valeur.

Mais pour défendre ces mesures, Hu Jintao vous dira par exemple, qu’en maintenant son change sous-évalué et à parité quasiment fixe avec le dollar, entre autre bénéfices au delà des exportations bon marché, la chine offre pour les entreprises étrangères un cadre plus certain aux affaires. En effet, lorsque les taux de change sont moins volatiles, le commerce est beaucoup moins risqué dans la mesure où les profits, une fois rapatriés, ne sont pas altérés par les variations. Ceci justifierait donc entre autre raisons, la préférence chinoise de plusieurs multinationales occidentales lorsqu’il faut relocaliser (‘offshoring’). Et pour le président Obama, comme pour d’autres décideurs de par le monde, ceci serait une forme de concurrence déloyale.

Un autre bénéfice de ces mesures serait que le yuan chinois fait moins l’objet de spéculations car les potentiels spéculateurs ne prévoient pas de variations significatives de la monnaie. Et du coup, parce que moins exposé, moins attaqué et donc plus stable, le yuan pourrait commencer à bénéficier de la confiance des traders et institutions financières. Ceci causerait de fait quelques petits soucis au dollar américain et aux autorités américaines qui depuis la fin de la Seconde Guerre Mondiale savourent bien les avantages que leur confère le status de monnaie de réserve internationale… [Je vais peut être un peu trop vite en besogne….mais bon !].

Donc, en plus de la compétitivité affichée que lui apportent la stabilité et la sous-évaluation de son change, la chine aurait bien d’autres raisons inavouées…

Et pourquoi d’autres Economies ne suivent-elles pas les méthodes chinoises ?

Si tout le monde venait à agir comme la Chine, les premières Economies à subir seraient probablement les grandes Economies elles mêmes (Eurozone, USA, GB …) et ensuite les pays très pauvres. Comment ? En ceci que pour soutenir une croissance mondiale, il faut qu’elle soit accompagnée par un niveau de liquidités internationales approprié (Euro, Dollars, Livres sterling, etc.). Alors si les pays émetteurs de ces devises internationales venaient soit à restreinte/ soit à trop émettre celles ci afin de satisfaire leurs besoins de compétitivité, cela conduirait indiscutablement soit à un ralentissement de l’activité économique mondiale dans son ensemble, soit à une inflation au niveau mondial.

Deuxièmement, si la politique compétitive chinoise était adoptée par tout le monde, cela conduirait inévitablement à des mesures protectionnistes du « chacun pour soi »  ce qui à son tour engendrait des crises généralisées, une limitation de la croissance mondiale et au pire à une récession mondiale.

Mais la chine pourra-t-elle indéfiniment poursuivre cette politique du contrôle de change ? Quels risques coure-t-elle ?

Je commencerais par le risque de l’incapacité de répondre aux chocs. En effet, avec un régime de change fixe, lorsque les prix et le taux de salaire sont rigides, les marges de manœuvres permettant de faire face à des crises soudaines de la balance des paiements – comme celles causées par une augmentation brutale des prix du pétrole, sont très étroites. Hu Jintao me répondra surement que pour le moment, la china à un excédent commercial avoisinant les 11% du PIB…no comment.

Mais à très long terme, cette politique du contrôle du taux de change pourrait entrer en conflit avec les intérêts du monde des affaires et même ceux de l’économie nationale : la chine dépendant en majorité de ses exportations, elle pourrait voir à la faveur d’un choc externe (par exemple, une récession dans les pays importateurs, donc une baisse de la demande des produits chinois, ou du simple fait du durcissement de la concurrence étrangère) apparaitre une détérioration de sa balance des paiements. Le taux de change étant fixe, le pays perd de fait sa compétitivité…

A mon avis, si la Chine souhaite un jour jouer un rôle plus important dans la sphère financière internationale, elle devrait pour cela peut être, commencer par revoir l’ancrage du Yuan au dollar avec une nouvelle valeur de parité, élargir les marges de fluctuation du yuan vis-à-vis du dollar (+/- 5 à 7% par ex.) et à termes laisser fluctuer le yuan au gré des forces du marché. Ce d’autant plus que selon les experts, le yuan serait sous évalué de 15-25% à 60-70%. Et peut être aussi, la chine devrait commencer à penser à l’ancrage du yuan à un panier de devises plus large (dollar, euro, yen par ex.).

Il faut tout de même avant de conclure, noter que d’autres grandes puissances y compris les Etats-Unis interviennent quoique qu’indirectement, sur les marchés des changes afin de positionner leur monnaie en harmonie avec les objectifs de politique économique nationale.

A lire aussi :

Towards a new global reserve currency…the end of the U.S. dollar?

January 19, 2011 Posted by | Articles In French, International Economics, International Finance | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Déficit Public Annuel Inférieur À 3% du PIB, Un Luxe Pour La Zone Euro ?

1ier janvier 1999, c’était parti, la zone euro était lancée ! Et pour faire comme les grands, elle s’était dotée d’un parterre de conditions spécifiées dans ce qui convient d’appeler le « Protocole sur les critères de convergence ». Critères de convergence dont l’un des piliers centraux est le rapport entre le déficit public annuel et le produit intérieur brut (PIB) qui ne doit pas dépasser 3 % à la fin du précédent exercice budgétaire.

Vous avez dit 3% ? Bien !

Alors, comment expliquer les chiffres ci-dessous ?

Grèce, déficit public 2009, 12,7% du PIB

Espagne, déficit public 2009, 11,2% du PIB

Portugal, déficit public 2009, 8% du PIB

France, déficit public 2009, 7,9% du PIB ….

………. Belgique, déficit public 2009, 5,9% du PIB; Italie, déficit public 2009, 5,3% du PIB et Allemagne, déficit public 2009, 3,4% du PIB.

Source : Commission européenne

http://www.touteleurope.fr/fr/actions/economie/euro/presentation/comparatif-le-deficit-public-dans-la-zone-euro.html

Plus grave, des révélations récentes font état des chiffres truqués publiés par le gouvernement grec sur la situation de ses finances publiques. En effet,  et je me prononce avec réserve, il semblerait que les chiffres officiels avancés jusqu’à présent par le gouvernement grec étaient tous faux. L’exemple le plus patent est le déficit public qu’il avait annoncé être à 6% du PIB pour 2009, alors qu’en réalité il se trouvait à 12,7%. Un ancien dirigeant de la banque centrale grecque, Mr Panayotis Thomopoulos pour ne pas le citer, déclarait même récemment et je le cite : « Ici, la fraude est un sport national » bon, au moins un qui est honnête !

C’est à se demander à quoi servent les institutions statistiques européennes en l’occurrence Eurostat, la Banque centrale européenne et la direction générale des affaires économiques et financières de la commission européenne ?

Mais par-dessous tout, ce qui a surtout retenu mon attention dans cette affaire euro-européenne,  c’est la prétendue solidarité bilatérale et / ou institutionnelle  (française et allemande) promise lors du sommet qui s’est tenu très récemment le 11 février 2010 à Bruxelles et dont l’objectif était de sauver la Grèce. Franchement, la France ? Parle t- on du pays dont le déficit public devrait s’envoler à 8,3% du PIB en 2010 ? Non seulement donc bien au delà des 3% requis, mais pire que 2009 !

Franchement, ne faut-il pas plutôt pour l’euro-zone penser à une dévaluation de leur monnaie? Vous me répondriez sans doute qu’il ne s’agit pas du Peso de l’Amérique latine ou du franc CFA de l’Afrique francophone dont les déficits publics atteignent les 30, 40, voire souvent 50% du PIB. Je vous le concède !

Bien que comparaison ne soit pas raison, et toute proportion gardée, admettons quand même que les situations sont similaires : déficit budgétaire, endettement public, taux de chômage élevé, balance commerciale déficitaire, mauvaise gestion des finances publiques, avec comme cerise sur le gâteau,  fricotage des données publiques !!!

Sérieux, si c’avait été le Mexique, l’Argentine ou le Burkina-Faso qui présentait de tels manquements, Monseigneur  FMI (dont les décideurs ne sont autres que princesse zone-euro et Prince USA) préconiserait déjà une dévaluation « compétitive » et des programmes d’ajustement structurel afin de rétablir les finances publiques.

Alors Sa Séniorité FMI, qu’en est-il du cas grec ? Ou mieux encore du cas zone-euro ?

J’entends parler qui de souveraineté européenne, qui d’interventionnisme américain si le FMI venait à s’y impliquer… alors on préfère ne pas faire appel à ses services.

Oh chère Europe, « ce qui arrive aux autres commence déjà à nous arriver » !

February 23, 2010 Posted by | Articles In French, Economics, International Economics, International Finance | , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Is The Free Market Era Over?

Stock market

Are we moving back to the Keynesian economic approach with all these bailouts around the world, or should we define a new paradigm for economics after the world financial crisis has demonstrated the limits of the free market with its invisible hand?

The failure of economists, businesses and politics to predict and manage the recent catastrophic crash of the world’s financial system has triggered a re-evaluation of the whole basis of current economic theories.

Since the end of the 20th century, economics has been dominated by the classical paradigm based on notions of rational consumers making rational choices in a simple supply/demand world of finite resources, with prices constrained by decreasing returns; all driving the economy to an optimal equilibrium point.

So far, this classical economic approach, initially conceived by Adam Smith, has been working well. Indeed, in normal circumstances people are generally rational. The market automatically allocates resources and controls excesses in an optimum way with minimum oversight or outside regulation required. Under this model, the economy has been working as an equilibrium system; a system that moves from one equilibrium point to another, driven by shocks from external disruptions – technological, political, cultural etc- but always coming to rest in a natural equilibrium state.

But in extreme or complex circumstances, people and the system tend to behave/react differently including consumers, banks, financial institutions, stock market traders and governments. And perhaps the most critically flawed assumption of this classical model has been that economic agents are generally rational. Whereas, we observed recently insolvent households taking mortgages that they could not afford, banks lending to insolvent households without conditions etc. leading us to the subprime crisis …we know the result.

From this flawed assumption, the following question is raised: is it the theory that should be questioned or is it one of its hypotheses (namely the rationality)? Some would argue that questioning the hypothesis is questioning the theory. Anyway…

To tackle this current crisis, Some voices have been suggesting more regulations as this would frame the rationality of economic agents and force them to behave in a more sensible way; some others have been calling for more government intervention in order to set rules and monitor  the whole system (with a big bailout here and there when necessary).

Wait a minute, if I am not mistaken, this would mean going back to the Keynesian approach of economics?

Indeed, according to Keynes, Excesses or deficiencies in aggregate demand are the rule and not the exception. Therefore, for Keynes, government intervention is needed to eliminate recessionary and inflationary gaps: laissez faire, laissez passer policies should be replaced with an active interventionist policy by the central government.  Keynesians believe that monetary and especially fiscal policies are required; otherwise disasters like the Great Depression that followed the First World War or the crisis that we are facing now would certainly reoccur.

There we are! Was Keynes right? Or should I say, is Keynes right?

Not so sure. If the Keynesian prescription for active government involvement in the economy was warranted after the World War I, in the past few decades, government intervention has become less desirable…and some argue, less necessary. Indeed, since the World War II, we have experienced six decades of growing competition. The once oligopolistic market structures in autos, telecommunications, services, etc. have become very competitive, and government policies increasingly have impact across borders. Furthermore, nowadays, banks, financial institutions, manufacturers, energy suppliers are increasingly internationally managed; following Keynesian policies with their fundamentally collectivist, centralized approach would just lead to more trouble. For instance, if a multinational that has networks over the world is centrally managed in the way Keynes suggests, the collapse of one element of the network in one country would easily make the whole system topple like dominoes around the world as we have just experienced.

In short, if the Keynesian approach was likely to work after the First World War, the crash that we are facing now is far more serious than the Great Depression of 1929 as it can not be contained within borders or so easily solved by mass bailout, mass lending or big government investments/ job creation programs.

The need of an evolutionary or new economic model…

Instead of going back to the Lord Keynes School of thought, maybe we should rather think of a new model that would fit with the globalisation of markets, and that would -to some extent- set some global regulations to frame agent behaviours around the world, but ultimately leave the market free.

This new paradigm should be based on the principle that economies, markets, regulations, globalisation, as well as the internet (a new and very important component), consumers, enterprises and the brain all form complex adaptive systems in which agents dynamically and rationally interact, process information and adapt their behaviour to a constantly changing environment- but always reach a final equilibrium.

In this new model, and unlike the strict distinction between the too much and the too little government approach, the market should rather be a combination of an “invisible hand” and necessary regulatory elements (government that would not impede competition and risk) with the mindset that the market is henceforth a small village that needs to adapt to the constantly changing global environment.

To conclude this paper, I strongly believe that free market still has a future, and markets are still perfectly self-regulating systems. They are only becoming enormously complex adaptive networks – too complex and interdependent for economists and governments to control or even understand.

Ultimately, every individual/company is continually exerting himself to find out the most advantageous employment for whatever capital he / it can command. Therefore, by pursuing our own interest we benefit society more than when we directly attempt to benefit society. According to Adam Smith, we are all led by an “invisible hand” to benefit society even as our intent is to benefit ourselves.

Invisible Hand Theory proposed by Adam Smith in the 18th century, really helps to explain how the market economy works even with its chaotic nature.

Personally, I view the Invisible Hand theory as the economic counterpart of democratic theory. Just as, in a democracy, people are supposed to choose the best leaders for themselves, the Invisible Hand theory presumes that people chose to produce and consume in the most efficient manner when given a free hand.

So in practice, markets may still end up being little bit chaotic due to the irrationality of agents or inadequate information shared within the system, but that is not because the Invisible Hand theory or the free market model is inaccurate.

October 3, 2009 Posted by | Articles In English, Economics, International Economics, International Finance | , , , , , | 3 Comments

Towards An Economic Recovery?

Do the big profits of Barclays and HSBC (almost £3bn each) revealed today, prefigure the end of, if not the economic crisis, at least the financial crisis?

August 3, 2009 Posted by | Articles In English, Economics, International Economics, International Finance | Leave a comment

Vers La Fin De La Crise Economique?

Les énormes profits (près de 3 milliards de livres chacune) annoncés aujourd’hui par Barclays et HSBC, préfigurent-ils sinon la fin de la crise économique, du moins celle de la crise financière?

August 3, 2009 Posted by | Articles In French, Economics, International Economics, International Finance | Leave a comment

Towards a new global reserve currency…the end of the U.S. dollar?

Dollar2

Maybe we should start with a quick reminder about the meaning of “a reserve currency”. Well, a reserve currency could be defined as a foreign currency held by central banks and other major financial institutions as a means to pay off international debt obligations, commodities such as gold or oil, or just to influence their domestic exchange rate.

Considering this definition, there are many questions that rise automatically: do we really need a reserve currency? Why the US dollar and not another currency? Could any other currency replace the US dollar?

Do we really need a reserve currency? What is the point of having one?

What’s the point of having a reserve currency? From its meaning, it serves first of all as a standard unit for international payments and thus it protects national currencies against shock. But more importantly, manipulating reserve levels can enable a country’s central bank to intervene against currency volatility  and thus help to adjust exchange rate. If demand for the  yen drops,  for example,  Japan can use their extra US dollars to buy up the unwanted yen, thereby propping up its value.

Why the US dollar and not another currency?

The first currency to be held in foreign reserves was the British pound, during the 18th and 19th centuries. That changed after World War II, when the major economic powers met at Breton Woods and established the exchange-rate system and the International Monetary Fund to oversee it. Under that system, the US dollar became the “de facto reserve currency”, partly because the United States was an economic power and partly because the dollar was backed by gold (In other words, any country could trade its dollars back in exchange for gold). As a result, the US dollar was considered extremely stable. Nowadays, the dollar still makes up more than 50% of global reserves, trailed by the euro, which constitutes about 25%.

Does any privilege accrue from being the reserve currency? Certainly. Part of the privilege is that the US can borrow in its own currency and later pay back the debt in its own currency even when the dollar has decreased in value. Furthermore, commodities and international invoices are priced in the reserve currency (US dollar),  so for the US economy there is no additional cost in the event of currency fluctuations.

So, if there is a need for a reserve currency, and if the US dollar is the most stable currency at the moment, why are China and Russia calling for a new global currency?

It was reported recently that two of the world’s superpowers, Russia and China , have called for a new global currency. I believe they’re doing this because they know that the US is printing (or planning to print) huge amounts of dollars right now to pay down its own massive debts (debts that other countries, like China, have been financing for years by purchasing US Treasury Bonds).

But, what America tends to forget is that: “the more paper money you print, the less it’s worth” and right now, with the Americans’ new stimulus plan, the federal reserve is planning to print many more paper money. (Don’t forget this is the country of “yes we can”).

So, how does it work?

You see, when a country buys a bond, in fact, it is loaning money and charging interest to the issuer of that bond to be paid upon maturity.

Well, for years now, other countries have been buying US bonds so the USA could in turn buy all of their made-overseas stuff. They were essentially loaning their biggest customer the money it needed to buy from them. For instance, US owes China alone over a trillion dollars. That’s just one of many countries that the United Stated owes money to.

So now, to get America ’s bills paid, The Federal Reserve is purchasing those US Treasury bonds that other countries used to buy. To do that, a lot more dollars have to be printed to buy them.

So, the fact that china is asking for a new reserve currency is a clear sign that China , as the largest holder of US dollar financial assets (bonds), is concerned about the potential inflationary risk of the US Federal Reserve printing money. Indeed, US dollars could decrease in value very soon, because The US Federal Reserve would print many of them to loan out. Logically, “the more there is of something, including money, the less it’s worth”.

What is the Chinese argument with regards to the new reserve currency system? Well, according to China , to better insulate countries from the ills of one country or one currency, they are pressing the IMF to create a “reserve currency” based on shares in the body held by its 185 member nations, known as special drawing rights (SDRs). The thing is, at present, the currencies in the SDR basket are by weight, the US dollar (44%), the Euro (34%), the Japanese Yen (11%) and the British Pound (11%). So ultimately, this new reserve system would not make that much difference except that, in addition to the US dollar, China would have the chance to diversify the basket of their reserves, keeping the US dollar at the top (just like now). Their argument nevertheless does make sense.

Could any other currency or reserve currency system replace the US dollar?

Not so sure. Why? Because first of all there is always an advantage to an individual central bank  holding its reserves in the same currency as other central banks. By far, the US dollar remains the main portion of central banks’ reserves around the world including China (approximately, the US dollar would make up more than 50% of global reserves, trailed by the Euro). Thus central banks  find it attractive to hold US dollars because other central banks hold US dollars. With everyone doing likewise, the market in dollars is deep, liquid and likely to last for long time ahead. Secondly, oil and many commodities are priced in dollars. Business deals around the world are done in dollars. Also, the US dollar is still considered by most investors as the more stable currency  compared to others such as the Euro or the Yen. Finally, it would require acceptance from nations around the world that have long used the US dollar and hold huge stockpiles of the US currency, before shifting over to any other reserve system. Can this happen suddenly?

Let’s finish this paper by pointing out that the idea of creating a new global reserve currency isn’t new. For decades there has been talk about creating an international reserve currency and it has never really progressed. Why? Because managing such a currency would require balancing the contradictory needs of countries with high and low growth or with trade surpluses and deficits.  Probably, in the end, the most powerful currency will predominate. This would be the US dollar again considering its stability and availability around the world.

Anyway, countries aren’t required to keep their reserves in dollars, they do it because they want to (The dollar’s “primary reserve currency” status is more de facto than official.) So, if China decided to dump its reserve of dollars, it would not only jeopardize its relationship with the United States , but other countries wouldn’t necessarily do the same.

So, Dear China, would you like to take the risk?

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GOLD STANDARD: YES OR NO?

April 9, 2009 Posted by | Articles In English, International Economics, International Finance | , , , , , | 20 Comments

Foreign Exchange Risk Management – Theory versus Practice: The Case of Two UK Based Firms

My dissertation project for a Masters in International Business (Option International Finance) was about how multinational companies manage FX risk exposure and how this compares to theory.

Using two UK based firms as a case study, I found out that there were differences in management practices between these two companies on one side, as well as between practice and theory on FX risk management. Differences were found namely in the choice of the type of risk to be managed and hedging instruments. Consistent with theory, cash flow matching (natural hedging) and forward contracts were the most used hedging instruments. However in terms of risk exposure, transaction exposure was the most managed in practice whereas economic exposure was the most relevant in literature. While translation exposure was often not hedged in practice and this was in line with theory, one of the companies in my study was sometimes managing its translation exposure.

Finally, theory argues that firms should first use internal/natural hedging techniques and then, if necessary, pass to external hedging techniques. The main argument being that external hedging is costly.  Graduate - ResIn practice, the two UK based companies I used in my project followed this strategy as they do natural hedging whenever it is possible. However, firms rarely (if not never) fully hedge their FX risk exposure because it is expensive and according to them, it does not completely eliminate FX risk exposure.

 

 

 

“Now that I am ready to fully start a career, I would like to express my deep gratitude to my project supervisor Dr PEIYI YU and my award leader Ms DAPHNE LAING.

Special thanks and gratitude to Mr & Mrs Anoke, my very dear parents, for all their support!!!”

February 28, 2009 Posted by | Articles In English, International Business, International Finance, MY DISSERTATION PROJECT | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment