Submitted by Tyler Durden on 11/20/2014 17:07 -0500
Bank of Japan
Exchange Stabilization Fund
Wall Street Journal
Submitted by John Butler via Contra Corner blog,
The topic of ‘currency war’ has been bantered about in financial circles since at least the term was first used by Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega in September 2010. Recently, the currency war has escalated, and a ‘sanctions war’ against Russia has broken out. History suggests that financial assets are highly unlikely to preserve investors’ real purchasing power in this inhospitable international environment, due in part to the associated currency crises, which will catalyse at least a partial international remonetisation of gold. Vladimir Putin, under pressure from economic sanctions, may calculate that now is the time to play his ‘gold card’.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CURRENCY WAR
“We’re in the midst of an international currency war. This threatens us because it takes away our competitiveness.” Brazilian Finance Minister Mantega uttered these words in September 2010, about two years after the spectacular global financial crisis of late 2008. During and following the crisis, the euro declined by around 25% versus the dollar. The pound sterling declined by nearly 30%. And while the Brazilian real also declined initially, it subsequently regained these losses in less than a year, unlike either the euro or pound. Dramatic swings in currency values can have a material impact on relative rates of economic growth. And when global economic growth is weak, the temptation to devalue and take some global market share from competitors is strong. “The advanced countries are seeking to devalue their currencies,” claimed Mantega.
The decline in the value of the euro in 2008-11 was of special importance because it exposed a key fault-line across the euro-area: That between the competitive exporters of the North, such as Germany, Poland and the Czech and Slovak Republics; and the less competitive importers of the South, such as Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece. With the euro weaker, the exporters’ economies were booming. Yet the fallout from the financial crisis fell hardest on the least competitive euro members, threatening the solvency of their banks and, by extension, the sustainability of their governments’ finances.
Thus there emerged a ‘civil currency war’ in the euro-area, which is still being fought at the ECB in Frankfurt and in the national capitals. The South is facing default and multiple countries have considered withdrawing from the euro, threatening the entire project. The North remains reluctant to provide bail-outs without a substantial quid-pro-quo in the form of a meaningful restructuring of the chronically uncompetitive southern economies.
Although the crisis remains unresolved to this day, various compromises were reached in 2012 that have bought an unknown amount of time. Whether that time has been used wisely is highly debatable, and one or more rounds of bail-outs and possibly another acute crisis (or multiple crises) lies ahead.
A dramatic escalation in the global currency war took place in Japan in 2012, following the election of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who campaigned on a platform of proposed radical measures to get the Japanese economy moving again. Thus he wasted no time in deploying the most obvious weapon: currency devaluation. From October 2012 to February 2013, the yen devalued by some 25%.
While this did have the result of providing some short-term stimulus, the overall effect was smaller and shorter-lived than hoped. Thus the Bank of Japan took additional measures recently to weaken the yen further. As of this writing, the yen has fallen by a further 15%. And that’s not all: Abe is now promising to halt a planned increase in sales tax and has called a snap election as a de facto referendum on his radical economic policies. Further yen weakness following this announcement suggests that the financial markets expect that Abe will prevail and follow-through accordingly.
This large cumulative yen devaluation is an attack on Japan’s competitors in the global export markets, in particular those for technologically advanced manufactured goods. Germany, Poland, South Korea, Taiwan and Brazil are in this group and no doubt the weaker yen is one reason why growth in these countries has been slowing of late.
Germany and Poland, however, now find they are fighting a three-front currency war: Versus Japan for export market share; versus the US, EU and NATO over the issue of economic sanctions against Russia; and on the continuing front within the euro-area itself, where recently both countries dissented from a recent ECB quantitative easing (QE) initiative to purchase asset-backed securities. How Germany, Poland and other countries caught in the crossfire of the currency and sanctions wars react will in turn have an impact on their trading partners, and so on. The associated negative consequences for global financial markets could be substantial.