Archive for the 'Currency' Category

May 19 2008

China’s “silver bullet” – a strong RMB could solve her biggest economic woes…

Asia Sentinel – The Answer for China’s Inflation
Two goals recently voiced by the Chinese leadership: increased consumer spending and reduced inflation. These are worthy goals for policymakers to pursue; if accomplished, they will mean increased well-being for the average Demand-pull inflation caused by increase in consumptionChinese household, which will enjoy more goods and services at lower prices.

The problem is, increased consumption usually means rising prices, as can be clearly illustrated in an aggregate demand / aggregate supply diagram. Household spending makes up somewhere around 40% of China’s GDP, exports, government spending and investment account for the rest. Whenever one component of total expenditures increase in the economy, all other things equal, the price level will rise.

Only two things could happen to make the Chinese leadership’s goal of increased consumer spending and stable prices a reality: either productivity in the economy must increase more rapidly than consumer spending, shifting aggregate supply outward, or another component of aggregate demand must be reduced more rapidly than consumption increases, offsetting the increase in overall expenditures cause by rising consumption.

So what magical combination of fiscal and monetary policy can be employed to both increase consumption and stabilize the price level? The answer may not rest purely in the realm of domestic macroeconomic policy-making, but rather in the foreign exchange markets, where a weak RMB has kept domestic consumption low and net exports (thus the price level) high. Allowing the RMB to appreciate should make “magic” happen and lead to rising domestic consumption and disinflation simultaneously:

A stronger currency, commensurate with China’s increased economic strength, would both tamp down inflation and allow Chinese consumers to buy more goods and services. However, for reasons not entirely clear to me, or few others for that matter, China’s leaders are resisting this simple and beneficial solution.

The Chinese leadership’s stated goal in prodding their citizens to spend more is to decrease their economy’s dependence on exports. If the Chinese, who currently save 50 percent of their incomes, saved less, more of their production would be consumed locally. As a result, China would be less vulnerable to economic downturns abroad. Without a vibrant domestic market, over-leveraged Americans will apparently remain China’s most important customers.

A strengthened yuan would lower the real costs of goods for domestic consumers and allow the Chinese themselves to compete more evenly with consumers in other nations to whom they currently send the fruits of their labor. As goods become more affordable in China, the Chinese would naturally consume more. A rising yuan would therefore kill two birds with one stone: it would reverse recent consumer price increases and it would induce Chinese consumers to buy their own products.

Some members of the US Congress estimated sometime last year that the Chinese currency was undervalued by 27%, leading certain politicians to call for an across the board tariff on all Chinese imports to the United States. Such protectionist sentiment was not uncommon 12 months ago, but as America faces its own economic slowdown, compounded by rising inflation and the falling value of the dollar, such calls for more taxes on imports have disappeared from Washington.

The sensible action for the Chinese to take in response to its own overheating economy (letting the RMB appreciate in order to relieve inflation and encourage domestic consumption) could spell economic doom for the US. As China adopts a “strong yuan” policy, its demand for US dollar-denominated financial assets, including government debt, will decline, reducing demand in the US bond market, lowering bond prices and driving up interest rates in the US. Higher US rates will discourage investment and consumption, exacerbating the slowdown already underway in America. Furthermore, reduced demand for US assets by China will cause demand for the dollar to slide in foreign exchange markets. Since much of American’s household spending is on imports, inflation will rise in America as not only Chinese goods, but all imports, are now more expensive to Americans.

Usually in economics class, we adopt the frame of mind that economics is not a zero-sum game. In other words, through free trade based on comparative advantage and specialization, individuals and nations will benefit due to increased total output, increased productivity, higher incomes, and greater variety of goods and services produced within and among communities and nations. In the case of China and the US today, on the other hand, we appear to be in a situation where increased consumption by Chinese may be achievable only at the expense of American consumers, who because of rising interest rates and a falling dollar, may be forced to live “within their means” for the first time in decades.

Discussion questions:

  1. Why is a strong RMB necessary to simultaneously increase consumption and reduce inflation in China?
  2. Why would interest rates in the US rise if China adopted a “strong RMB” policy?
  3. Would Americans be better off without trade with China? What about the statement that Americans will be worse off if China is to achieve greater levels of domestic consumption?

2 responses so far

Apr 28 2008

More on exchange rates: Winners and losers of a strong British pound

BBC NEWS | Business | Q&A: Strong pound – winners and losers

Here’s another great article to help you understand the advantages and disadvantages of a strong currency. The British pound reached an all time high against the dollar late last year ($2.08 per pound, or 48 pence per dollar!!). So who are the winners and losers from a strong British pound, anyway?

Here’s a quick run-down… to read about why, click the link and read the article.

  • Winners: Brits traveling and shopping in the US, US businesses, British airlines, British consumers, British drivers
  • Losers: Americans traveling in Britain, small businesses in the UK, British exporting firms, British airlines, shareholders in certain companies.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why may British airlines benefit AND lose with a stronger British pound?
  2. Who else will benefit from the strengthening pound that is not mentioned by the article? Refer to your notes from class.
  3. Who else will be harmed by the stronger pound that is not mentioned?

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Apr 28 2008

Does the weak dollar help US manufacturers?

Yes, but it’s a bit more complicated than it might seem at first. This podcast looks at the impact of the falling dollar on the aerospace industry, in which manufacturing for the industry’s largest firms is sourced to hundreds of smaller companies each with factories in countless countries from North America to Europe to Asia.

The recent fluctuations in the US dollar exchange rate has wreaked havoc for firms located in the US and trying to compete in this competitive market. In some cases, the outcome has been positive, but as you’ll hear, not always.

Listen to this podcast then discuss the questions below:

Discussion Questions:

  1. How has the weaker dollar helped the Connecticut firm Kamatics?
  2. How has Kamatics been hurt by the weaker dollar?
  3. Why do fluctuations in the dollar make “business more unstable”?
  4. How does the impact of currency swings become more ambiguous “as the economies of the world become more intertwined”?
  5. Why did EchoAir stop manufacturing products in Romania? What impact would a revaluation of the Chinese Yuan have on EchoAir’s current manufacturing decisions?

5 responses so far

Apr 19 2008

The dollar’s weak… no, wait, it’s strong!

I like this commercial. It teaches us nothing about economics, but it’s amusing and brings some light to a rather dismal outlook for the US economy and falling dollar…

[youtube j5fWuNoldgc]

11 responses so far

Mar 31 2008

Politics, priorities, and the Phillips Curve / Asia-Pacific / China – Weak dollar troubles Beijing

Inflation, with its erosive effects on wealth and income, has plagued China at increasing rates since mid-2007. In February it reached an annualized rate of 8.7%, threatening to undermine China’s GDP growth rate, which has been predicted in the 8% range for this year.

As we have discussed in our our AP Econ class here in Shanghai, China’s inflation is caused by a combination of demand and supply-side factors. On the demand-side, a growing middle class has driven consumer spending to record levels recently, surpassing investment as the largest component of China’s GDP in 2007. Of course, as always, high inflation (thus low real interest rates), optimism about rising consumption in the future, and a comparative advantage in labor-intensive manufacturing (albeit a diminishing one as wages continue to rise) all combine to keep investment extremely high. Furthermore, cheap exports have helped keep demand for China’s output from abroad strong. The combination of increasing consumption, strong investment, and its trade surplus have resulted in demand-pull inflation.

On the supply-side, China has encountered additional inflationary pressures of late. Rising energy prices (mostly due to coal and oil shortages) combined with record rises in food prices (24% increase in the last year), have driven costs to firms up, shifting the aggregate supply curve leftward, further fueling inflation.

Knowing the damaging effects inflation has on income and wealth, it might be assumed that Beijing would place the utmost emphasis on taming the country’s rising prices. This, however,is not at the top of the government’s macroeconomic goals, according to premier Wen Jiabao:

On the issue of whether he would sacrifice economic output to bring down inflation, at the risk of increasing unemployment, Mr Wen indicated that growth re­mained the overarching priority. “We must ensure that our economy will grow…in order to ensure employment,” he said. “China is a developing country with 1.3bn people. We have to maintain a certain degree of fast economic growth to provide enough jobs.

”He said China needed to add about 10m jobs a year for the next five years, a lower figure than in the past whenPC the aim was growth of 15m-20m jobs a year.

The tradeoff between inflation and unemployment to which Mr. Wen refers is a text book example of the challenges faced by macroeconomic policymakers everywhere. This trade-off is illustrated in the Phillips Curve model, which shows that in the short-run, there exists an inverse relationship between the price level and the unemployment rate.

In his words above, Mr. Wen demonstrates Beijing’s preference in the trade-off between inflation and unemployment: He’ll take inflation… Here’s why.

In case you haven’t heard, China is not a democracy. Nor is it a, ehem, “free” country. According to Alan Greenspan in his book “The Age of Turbulence”, democracy and freedom of speech act as “safety valves” in Western countries; in other words, in times of economic or political unrest, the right to gather in the streets, the right to vent frustrations through a free press and the opportunity to advocate political and economic change through the various media, all combine to prevent violent and revolutionary uprisings when times get tough economically.

Take the US for example. Times are certainly tough right now. Inflation’s approaching 4-5%, while nominal growth has nearly stagnated. Unemployment, while it has technically fallen recently, in reality has risen as hundreds of thousands of workers have given up searching for work. The bursting of the housing bubble represents one of the most massive losses of wealth in recent history. A weak dollar has meant that even cheap imports don’t seem so cheap anymore. Throw in the desperate war in Iraq, the nuclear threat from Iran, rising food prices, $110 oil and an incredibly unpopular national leader, and by some measures the country would appear ripe for revolution. However, a revolution is about the least likely thing to occur in America, because it enjoys the “safety valve” of democracy. Rather than overthrowing their government, Americans have the right to go to the pole and vote for a new one, which in all likelihood will occur this November when it seems either Barrack or Hillary stand the greatest chance and winning the White House.

Now let’s look at China. The picture’s not quite so gloomy for the Chinese right now. Yes, inflation is high, as in the US. But unlike America, China is still growing at a very healthy pace, unemployment is probably still below its natural level, the real estate markets in China’s cities are still booming, meaning the middle class residents there are experiencing leaps and bounds in terms of personal wealth. Demand for its exports remains strong, and ever more poor Chinese are finding jobs in high paying factories across the country. Investments in capital, infrastructure and education point towards a bright future of continued growth for the foreseeable future.

But wait, 8.4% is something to worry about, especially when we take into account the 24% increase in food prices. Shouldn’t Wen and Beijing be taking drastic steps to reign in this high rate of inflation? In short, NO, they shouldn’t. Because as can be seen in the Phillips Curve, to reduce inflation could result in another, far more serious problem for Beijing; rising unemployment.

It appears that Beijing’s greatest fear is a population out of work. Its goal of creating 10 million new jobs is ambitious, but in the eye’s of the government, necessary. The Chinese people do not enjoy the “safety valve” of democracy through which economic frustrations and hardships can be channeled were the country to experience a slowdown in growth and an increase in unemployment. The last time the economy faced high inflation AND high unemployment, students, workers, soldiers and tanks all gathered for an afternoon of urban warfare under Mao’s somber gaze in Beijing. To avoid such massive revolutionary movements in the future, Beijing must do all it can to insure job creation continues and growth remains strong, even if the trade-off is record high inflation.

This one passage spoken by Wen Jiabao, China’s premier, tells a vivid story about the reality of Communist dictatorship in China. Sound economic policy may go on the back burner in times of political uncertainty. Price controls, such as those on petrol in Shanghai (speaking of, the long lines at gas stations are back!), were a microeconomic example of bad economics; Beijings hesitance to seriously tackle inflation is a macroeconomic example. Holding on to power seems to be more important than stabilizing prices, at least for now.

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