Thursday, May 14, 2009

Could The Yuan Become The World's Next Reserve Currency?

The U.S. dollar has faced some serious attacks lately, and our economy here in the U.S. is struggling, but have things really gotten so bad that the USD could lose its place as the world's reserve currency? And even if it did, wouldn't the Euro be next in line to take its place? According to Nouriel Roubini, the next world reserve currency could in fact be the Chinese Yuan, and the transition could happen sooner than we think. For more on this, read the following blog post from Mark Thoma which looks at Roubini's recent article on the subject.

Nouriel Roubini is worried that the dollar will lose its status as a reserve currency if we don't change our ways:

The Almighty Renminbi?, by Nouriel Roubini, Commentary, NY Times: ...While the dollar’s status as the major reserve currency will not vanish overnight, we can no longer take it for granted. Sooner than we think, the dollar may be challenged by other currencies, most likely the Chinese renminbi. This would have serious costs for America, as our ability to finance our budget and trade deficits cheaply would disappear. ...

The... downfall of the dollar may be only a matter of time. But what could replace it? The British pound, the Japanese yen and the Swiss franc remain minor reserve currencies, as those countries are not major powers. Gold is still a barbaric relic whose value rises only when inflation is high. The euro is hobbled by concerns about the long-term viability of the European Monetary Union. That leaves the renminbi. ...

At the moment,... the renminbi is far from ready to achieve reserve currency status. China would first have to ease restrictions on money entering and leaving the country, make its currency fully convertible for such transactions, continue its domestic financial reforms and make its bond markets more liquid. It would take a long time for the renminbi to become a reserve currency, but it could happen. ...

We have reaped significant financial benefits from having the dollar as the reserve currency. In particular, the strong market for the dollar allows Americans to borrow at better rates. We have thus been able to finance larger deficits for longer and at lower interest rates, as foreign demand has kept Treasury yields low. We have been able to issue debt in our own currency rather than a foreign one, thus shifting the losses of a fall in the value of the dollar to our creditors. Having commodities priced in dollars has also meant that a fall in the dollar’s value doesn’t lead to a rise in the price of imports. ...

This decline of the dollar might take more than a decade, but it could happen even sooner if we do not get our financial house in order. ... For the last two decades America has been spending more than its income, increasing its foreign liabilities and amassing debts that have become unsustainable. A system where the dollar was the major global currency allowed us to prolong reckless borrowing.

Now that the dollar’s position is no longer so secure, we need to shift our priorities. This will entail investing in our crumbling infrastructure, alternative and renewable resources and productive human capital — rather than in unnecessary housing and toxic financial innovation. This will be the only way to slow down the decline of the dollar, and sustain our influence in global affairs.

This post can also be viewed on economistsview.typepad.com.

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