Monday, February 18, 2013

18/2/2013: G20 & Currency Wars

Amidst continued rapid devaluation of the Yen, predictably, and per usual, the G20 summit in Moscow has ended with a useless and unenforceable statement. This time around, as was signalled in the days ahead of the meeting, the 'focus' of transnational vacuousness was on the topic de jour: the Currency Wars.

But the background to it was much less economic than political. G20's sole obsession is to drive forward the idea that to survive, the world needs more coordination of top-level policies. This invariably requires (a) finding a convenient newsflow-worthy boggy, (b) making a statement to the effect that greater coordination is needed and that cooperation can cure all ills, and © proceeding to do absolutely nothing about it post-statement. The latests communique went on to conclude that “ambitious reforms and coordinated policies” were the key to achieving strong sustainable growth. Just like that: coordinate and magic shall happen.

Thus, the meeting of G20 has issued a statement rallying against competitive currency devaluations - or in more common parlance, a “currency war”.

In reality, G20 has no power to abate, let alone reverse, the process of currencies debasement. Quantitative easing - in its now fully evolved multitude of forms will go on, with central banks and governments across the OECD continuing to print their ways out of the slump. If G20 communique were to achieve anything, it will be just to push the whole affair under the proverbial rug, with devaluations not explicitly targeted in public pronouncements.

The communique states that G20 states "will refrain from competitive devaluation. [and] will not target our exchange rates for competitive purposes, will resist all forms of protectionism and keep our markets open.” The devil, of course, is in the slight turn of phrase. The G20 committed to not drive down their currencies values for 'competitive purposes'. But as long as money printing is 'necessary' to sustain domestic financial stability or deliver a monetary stimulus or both - then all is ok.

Just how feeble the whole statement is was illustrated immediately, with the worst offender - the Japanese Yen, down 7% in value already in 2013 - posting a slide against major currencies. In many ways, the communique makes it even more likely that sustained devaluation of the yen will be even more damaging now. Prior to G20 statement, the Japanese Government could have simply continued pushing down yen values by focusing on aggressive statements about the need for monetary stimulus and forex rate targeting. Now, it will have to print hard cash silently.

And the Fed is still sitting on a massive bonds purchasing programme that so far has been running at ca USD80bn per month. At G20 meeting this programme has been squarely defended by Bernanke.

Senior Bank of England, Martin Weale went on, during the G20 summit, to praise Sterling debasement, saying that a 25% devaluation of the pound over 2007-2008 period was not enough to boost exports and that more devaluation should be targeted.

In short, the entire G20 summit was a joke. It neither signaled any real policy shift, nor mapped a single tangible policy response to the crises still impacting advanced economies. If anything, via reducing potential rhetorical impact of monetary policy stance, it pushed the G7 countries into a more aggressive real monetary policies responses space. This promises to accelerate the currencies wars, while reducing overall ability of the monetary authorities to quickly unwind the decisions taken in years to come.
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