Yuan the Next Reserve Currency?

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Even before he touched down in Washington, Hu Jintao had already caused something of a stir with remarks he made in an interview with The Washington Post.

Responding to questions on the global and Chinese economies, and the lessons that should be drawn from the 2008 international financial crisis, Hu listed a number of measures that China had taken, including adjusting its macroeconomic policies, adopting a proactive fiscal policy and moderately easy monetary policy, and ‘energetically’ promoting scientific innovation and technological upgrading.

But it was his remarks on the future of the dollar that really made a splash. Asked what he thought about the US dollar and the possibility of making the renminbi (yuan) an international currency, Hu said:

‘The current international currency system is the product of the past. As a major reserve currency, the US dollar is used in considerable amount of global trade in commodities as well as in most of the investment and financial transactions…It takes a long time for a country's currency to be widely accepted in the world. China has made important contribution to the world economy in terms of total economic output and trade, and the renminbi has played a role in the world economic development. But making the renminbi an international currency will be a fairly long process. ‘

Needless to say, this prompted much excitement among headline writers around the world, with the Fox News choice being perhaps a little more lowbrow than—but certainly in keeping with the tone of—many others, when it said: ‘Hu Disses the Dollar; Says U.S. System is a “Product of the Past”’

So, how realistic is it that the yuan will replace the dollar as the global currency any time soon?

It’s a question that Michael Pettis, a professor of finance at Peking University, has pondered. He shared his thoughts in an email that he said he’s happy for me to reproduce in full:

‘The expectations of the yuan being a reserve currency soon are similar to expectations about the yen twenty years ago, and in my opinion with even less justification.  Aside from all the obvious technical and governance issues that will make it very difficult, it isn't at all clear to me how the world will accumulate yuan in anywhere near sufficient amounts.  

‘Will China start running current account deficits equal to nearly 1/4 to 1/2 of 1 percent of global GDP, as the US has for the past 30 to 40 years?  Or will they suddenly change what has so far been a huge reluctance to permit portfolio inflows, and allow foreigners to buy stocks and bonds equal to perhaps anywhere from 4 percent to 7 percent of China's GDP (and of course FDI doesn't count)?  Without one or the other it’s pretty pointless to talk about the yuan becoming a major reserve and trading currency.  I just don't see either happening, at least any time during the next 30 years.’

For those interested in a more detailed take by Pettis on this issue I’d recommend a blog entry he wrote late last year on the issue here.

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Nalliah Thayabharan
September 15, 2011 at 04:04

In July 1944 an agreement was reached at the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference which pegged the value of gold at USD35 per ounce and the whole world looked on USD as the gold standard in purchases. But in 1971, US President Nixon took the USD off the gold standard after his administration realized that the US no longer had enough gold to buy back every dollar that foreign governments were handing in.

In 1973, US President Nixon asked King Faisal of Saudi Arabia to accept only the USD in payment for oil, and to buy US Treasury bonds, notes and bills with their excess profits, so that USA can continue spending money and not pay it back. In return, the USA pledged to protect Saudi Arabian oil fields from seizure by USSR and other nations including Iraq and Iran.

The 1973 Arab-Israeli War upset this agreement and caused the Great Oil Embargo of 1974. By 1975 the Great Oil Embargo was over and all members of Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) accepted to sell their oil only in USD. Every nation was saving their surpluses in USD since every country needed USD to buy oil. The OPEC oil sales supported the USD. The Petrodollar system was a brilliant political and economic move created a growing international demand for both the USD and US debt – all at the expense of OPEC.

Since only the US Federal Reserve can print the USD, the US control the flow of oil. The US essentially owns the world’s oil for free because oil is denominated in USD and the USD is the only fiat currency for trading in oil.

So long as almost three quarter of world trade is done in USD, the USD is the currency which central banks accumulate as reserves. But central banks, whether China or Japan or Brazil or Russia, do not simply stack USD in their vaults. Currencies have one advantage over gold. A central bank can use it to buy the state bonds of the issuer, the USA. Most countries around the world are forced to control trade deficits or face currency collapse, but not the USA. This is because of the USD’s reserve currency role and the underpinning of the reserve role is the petrodollar. Every nation needs to get USD to import oil, some more than others. This means their trade targets USD countries.

Because oil is an essential commodity for every nation, the Petrodollar system, which exists to the present, demands the buildup of huge trade surpluses in order to accumulate USD surpluses. This is the case for every country but one — the USA which controls the USD and prints it at will or fiat. Because today the majority of all international trade is done in USD, countries must go abroad to get the means of payment they cannot themselves issue. The entire global trade structure today works around this dynamic, from Russia to China, from Brazil to South Korea and Japan. Every country aims to maximize USD surpluses from their export trade. Currently over $13,000 billion of newly printed USD is flooding into international commodity markets each year.

The Petrodollar system nearly broke down during the US President Carter’s tenure, mainly due to double digit inflation. But US President Reagan removed all controls on oil and fuel prices and all restrictions on oil drilling to restore the stability of the USD. Oil flooded the market, prices fell, and petrodollars became more valuable. These were some of the most prosperous years that the US had. But the danger remained, because the US continued to spend more USD than it earned.

US President Reagan saw the future of the US depending on the massive international consumption of oil, and encouraged the Saudi Arabia to flood the market. This brought the price of oil down and increased the consumption – a complete reversal of the 1973 oil embargo.

Increasing oil use boosted international demand for the USD and the US economy soared, while the low price of oil brought the USSR economy to its knees, as they could not sell oil at a profit due to their high extraction cost. The USSR finally collapsed in 1991.

Petrodollar system created consistent international demand for USD and upwards pressure on the USD’s value, regardless of economic conditions in the US. The high USD allowed the US to buy imported goods at a massive discount, a kind of subsidy for US consumers at the expense of the rest of the world. The high consumption of imports, however, hit US manufacturing very hard. The overvalued USD was a major component of the bubble economy of the late 90′s.

The reality is that the value of the USD is determined by the fact that oil is sold in USD. If the denomination changes to another currency, such as the euro, many countries would sell USD and cause the banks to shift their reserves, as they would no longer need USD to buy oil. This would thus weaken the USD relative to the euro. The USA propagates war to protect its oil supplies, but even more importantly, to safeguard the strength of the USD. The fundamental underlying motive of the US in the Iraq war, even more than the control of the oil itself, is an attempt to preserve the USD as the leading oil trading currency. The fear of the consequences of a weaker USD, particularly higher oil prices is seen as underlying and explaining many aspects of the US foreign policy, including the Iraq and Libyan War.

Until November 2000, no OPEC country dared violate the USD price rule. So long as the USD was the strongest currency, there was little reason to as well. But November 2000 was when France and other EU members finally convinced Iraq’s Saddam Hussein to defy the USA by selling Iraq’s oil-for-food not in USD, but only in euros. Few months before the US moved into Iraq to take down Saddam Hussein, Iraq had made the move to accept Euros instead of USD for oil, and this became a threat to the global dominance of the USD as the reserve currency, and its dominion as the petrodollar. The euros were on deposit in a special UN account of a French bank, BNP Paribas.

If this Iraq move to defy the USD in favor of the euro were to spread, especially at a point the USD was already weakening, it could create a panic selloff of USD by foreign central banks and OPEC oil producers. In the months before the latest Iraq war, hints in this direction were heard from Russia, Iran, Indonesia and even Venezuela. In April 2002 at the invitation of the EU, in Oviedo Spain, Iranian OPEC representative Javad Yarjani delivered a detailed analysis of how OPEC at some future point might sell its oil to the EU for euros not USD.

All indications are that the Iraq war was seized on as the easiest way to deliver a deadly pre-emptive warning to OPEC and others, not to flirt with abandoning the Petro-dollar system in favor of one based on the euro. The Iraq move was a declaration of war against the USD. As soon as it was clear that the UK and the US had taken down Saddam Hussein’s regime, a great sigh of relief was heard in the UK Banking cartels.

After considerable delay, Iran opened an oil bourse which does not accept USD. Many fear that the move will give added reason for the USA to overthrow the Iranian regime as a means to close the bourse and revert Iran’s oil transaction currency to USD. In 2006 Venezuela indicated support of Iran’s decision to offer global oil trade in euro.

Muammar Qaddafi made a similarly bold move, by initiating a movement to refuse the USD and the euro, and called on Arab and African nations to use a new currency instead, the gold dinar. Muammar Qaddafi suggested establishing a united African Union , with its 200 million people using this single currency. The initiative was viewed negatively by the USA and the European Union (EU), with French president Nicolas Sarkozy calling Libya a threat to the financial security of mankind. But Muammar Qaddafi continued his push for the creation of a united Africa.

Muammar Gaddafi’s proposal to introduce a gold dinar for Africa revived the notion of an Islamic gold dinar floated in 2003 by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, as well as by some Islamist movements. The notion, which contravenes IMF rules and is designed to bypass them, had had trouble getting started. But today Iran, China, Russia, and India are stocking more and more gold rather than USD.

If Muammar Qaddafi were to succeed in creating an African Union backed by Libya’s currency and gold reserves, France, still the predominant economic power in most of its former Central African colonies, would be the chief loser. The plans to spark the Benghazi rebellion were initiated by French intelligence services in November 2010.

The cost of wars are not nearly as big as they are made out to be. The cost of not going to war would be horrendous for the US unless there were another way of protecting the USD’s world trade dominance. The US paid for the wars by printing more USD.

In February 2011, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), has called for a new world currency that would challenge the dominance of the USD and protect against future financial instability. In May 2011 a 32 year old maid, Nafissatou Diallo, working at the Sofitel New York Hotel, alleged that Strauss-Kahn had sexually assaulted her after she entered his suite. Strauss-Kahn quit IMF on May 18, 2011.

Iran and Venzuela have constantly been threatened by the US, for ccepting Chinese renminbi (RMB), also known popularly as the yuan for oil,. If euros, yens, renminby or rubles were generally accepted for oil, the USD would quickly become irrelevant and worthless paper. This petro dollar arrangement is enforced by the US military.

Venezuela reportedly has the largest oil reserves in the world. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has been a strong proponent for tighter Latin America integration which is a move away from the power of the US banking cartels.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez formed oil export agreements with Cuba, directly bypassing the Petrodollar System. Cuba was among those countries that were later added to the “Axis of Evil” by the USA. On Aug 18 2011, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced a plan to pull Gold reserves from US and European Banks. On Aug 24, 2011 a 7 magnitude earthquake occured in Northern Peru bordering Venezuela which doesn’t use the Petrodollar system and Brazil which has been engaged in discussions to end USD denominated oil transactions.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has accused the US of using HAARP (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program) based weapons to create earthquakes. HAARP is an ionospheric research program that is jointly funded by the US Air Force, the US Navy, the University of Alaska and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The HAARP program operates a major Arctic facility, known as the HAARP Research Station, located on an US Air Force owned site near Gakona, Alaska.

HAARP has the ability to manipulate weather and produce earthquakes, since it is capable of directing almost 4 Mega Watts powerful radio waves in the 3 to 10 MHz region of the HF band up into the ionosphere. This energy can be bounced off of the ionosphere and permeate the earth and subsequently cause strong intense oscillations along fault lines of targeted areas to produce earthquakes. Using HAARP, depending on the frequency, focusing, wave shape, adversaries can induce at a distant aiming point, a variety anomalous weather phenomena such as hurricanes, flooding, or drought.

Any naturally-occurring earthquake has a ‘pulse-wave’ and several recent earthquakes did not have a pulse effect, indicating to seismologists that they could not have been caused naturally. According to several countries including Russia, China and Venezuela, HAARP type technology weapons are used against several countries causing severe destructions in Haiti, Japan, Russia, China, Iran, Chile, New Zealand, Afghanistan, Turkey etc.

If any country attempt to eliminate the Petrodollar system and dump surplus USD into the international and US financial markets to cause the quick collapse of the USD may be attacked with HAARP to destabilize its economy and currency and to prevent a move away from the USD and the Petrodollar system.

The credit crunch initiated in 2007 in the subprime mortgage market in the US had devastating spill-over effects for China’s exports. The scarcity of USD, due to the repatriation and deleveraging flows into the American financial system caused a sudden plunge in the external demand for goods manufactured by China and triggered the consequent lay-off of several millions of workers in China. This experience encouraged China to use its own currency in trade.

The US may have averted a debt default by compromising on how to cut the US budget deficit, but underlying problems remain and those economic woes are driving a global search for an alternative reserve currency. The US now needs a net inflow of several billions USD a day to cover its deficit.

US economy is in a deep hole and US shouldn’t dig any more. Reckless money printing known as “Quantitative Easing” and economical stimulus packages introduced in the aftermath of the Credit Crunch, has made very little impact on the growth of US economy. Current US economical growth is not adequate enough to create jobs and to get an economy back on track. Now the banks are under enormous pressure to lend more money but reckless lending by banks got US into this mess in the first place. The economical problems in Greece, Spain and Italy are very precarious. The bailout phenomenon is not working in Greece which is on the brink of defaulting on its debt. It is impossible for the EU to bailout Italy which is the third largest economy in Europe.

In 2011 Russia began selling its oil to China in rubles. The US debt crisis adds new urgency to the China’s efforts to promote its currency renminbi as an alternative reserve currency. China has already signed bilateral currency swap agreements with several countries ranging from Indonesia to Belarus and Argentina to promote the renminbi as a means of settlement in international trade. China’s growing trade and financial links with the rest of the world will make the renminbi more acceptable. If countries continue to lose their willingness to hold the USD the impact to the USD and the collapse of the USD could be very dramatic.

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