The uncovered interest parity (UIP) condition states that the interest rate differential between two currencies is the expected rate of change of their exchange rate. Empirically, however, in the 1976–2018 period, exchange rate changes were approximately unpredictable over short horizons, with a slight tendency for currencies with higher interest rates to appreciate against currencies with lower interest rates. If the UIP condition held exactly, carry trades, in which investors borrow low interest rate currencies and lend high interest rate currencies, would earn zero average profits. The fact that UIP is violated, therefore, is a necessary condition to explain the fact that carry trades earned significantly positive profits in the 1976–2018 period. A large literature has documented the failure of UIP, as well as the profitability of carry trades, and is surveyed here. Additionally, summary evidence is provided here for the G10 currencies. This evidence shows that carry trades have been significantly less profitable since 2007–2008, and that there was an apparent structural break in exchange rate predictability around the same time.
A large theoretical literature explores economic explanations of this phenomenon and is briefly surveyed here. Prominent among the theoretical models are ones based on risk aversion, peso problems, rare disasters, biases in investor expectations, information frictions, incomplete financial markets, and financial market segmentation.
The links of international reserves, exchange rates, and monetary policy can be understood through the lens of a modern incarnation of the “impossible trinity” (aka the “trilemma”), based on Mundell and Fleming’s hypothesis that a country may simultaneously choose any two, but not all, of the following three policy goals: monetary independence, exchange rate stability, and financial integration. The original economic trilemma was framed in the 1960s, during the Bretton Woods regime, as a binary choice of two out of the possible three policy goals. However, in the 1990s and 2000s, emerging markets and developing countries found that deeper financial integration comes with growing exposure to financial instability and the increased risk of “sudden stop” of capital inflows and capital flight crises. These crises have been characterized by exchange rate instability triggered by countries’ balance sheet exposure to external hard currency debt—exposures that have propagated banking instabilities and crises. Such events have frequently morphed into deep internal and external debt crises, ending with bailouts of systemic banks and powerful macro players. The resultant domestic debt overhang led to fiscal dominance and a reduction of the scope of monetary policy. With varying lags, these crises induced economic and political changes, in which a growing share of emerging markets and developing countries converged to “in-between” regimes in the trilemma middle range—that is, managed exchange rate flexibility, controlled financial integration, and limited but viable monetary autonomy. Emerging research has validated a modern version of the trilemma: that is, countries face a continuous trilemma trade-off in which a higher trilemma policy goal is “traded off” with a drop in the weighted average of the other two trilemma policy goals. The concerns associated with exposure to financial instability have been addressed by varying configurations of managing public buffers (international reserves, sovereign wealth funds), as well as growing application of macro-prudential measures aimed at inducing systemic players to internalize the impact of their balance sheet exposure on a country’s financial stability. Consequently, the original trilemma has morphed into a quadrilemma, wherein financial stability has been added to the trilemma’s original policy goals. Size does matter, and there is no way for smaller countries to insulate themselves fully from exposure to global cycles and shocks. Yet successful navigation of the open-economy quadrilemma helps in reducing the transmission of external shock to the domestic economy, as well as the costs of domestic shocks. These observations explain the relative resilience of emerging markets—especially in countries with more mature institutions—as they have been buffered by deeper precautionary management of reserves, and greater fiscal and monetary space.
We close the discussion noting that the global financial crisis, and the subsequent Eurozone crisis, have shown that no country is immune from exposure to financial instability and from the modern quadrilemma. However, countries with mature institutions, deeper fiscal capabilities, and more fiscal space may substitute the reliance on costly precautionary buffers with bilateral swap lines coordinated among their central banks. While the benefits of such arrangements are clear, they may hinge on the presence and credibility of their fiscal backstop mechanisms, and on curbing the resultant moral hazard. Time will test this credibility, and the degree to which risk-pooling arrangements can be extended to cover the growing share of emerging markets and developing countries.
Martin D. D. Evans and Dagfinn Rime
An overview of research on the microstructure of foreign exchange (FX) markets is presented. We begin by summarizing the institutional features of FX trading and describe how they have evolved since the 1980s. We then explain how these features are represented in microstructure models of FX trading. Next, we describe the links between microstructure and traditional macro exchange-rate models and summarize how these links have been explored in recent empirical research. Finally, we provide a microstructure perspective on two recent areas of interest in exchange-rate economics: the behavior of returns on currency portfolios, and questions of competition and regulation.