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Article

While traditional economic literature often sees nominal variables as irrelevant for the real economy, there is a vast body of analytical and empirical economic work that recognizes that, to the extent they exert a critical influence on the macroeconomic environment through a multiplicity of channels, exchange rate policies (ERP) have important consequences for development. ERP influences economic development in various ways: through its incidence on real variables such as investment and growth (and growth volatility) and on nominal aspects such relative prices or financial depth that, in turn, affect output growth or income distribution, among other development goals. Additionally, ERP, through the expected distribution of the real exchange rate indirectly, influences dimensions such as trade or financial fragility and explains, at least partially, the adoption of the euro—an extreme case of a fixed exchange rate arrangement—or the preference for floating exchange rates in the absence of financial dollarization. Importantly, exchange rate pegs have been (and, in many countries, still are) widely used as a nominal anchor to contain inflation in economies where nominal volatility induces agents to use the exchange rate as an implicit unit of account. All of these channels have been reflected to varying degrees in the choice of exchange rate regimes in recent history. The empirical literature on the consequences of ERP has been plagued by definitional and measurement problems. Whereas few economists would contest the textbook definition of canonical exchange rate regimes (fixed regimes involve a commitment to keep the nominal exchange rate at a given level; floating regimes imply no market intervention by the monetary authorities), reality is more nuanced: Pure floats are hard to find, and the empirical distinction between alternative flexible regimes is not always clear. Moreover, there are many different degrees of exchange rate commitments as well as many alternative anchors, sometimes undisclosed. Finally, it is not unusual that a country that officially declares to peg its currency realigns its parity if it finds the constraints on monetary policy or economic activity too taxing. By the same token, a country that commits to a float may choose to intervene in the foreign exchange market to dampen exchange rate fluctuations. The regime of choice depends critically on the situation of each country at a given point in time as much as on the evolution of the global environment. Because both the ERP debate and real-life choices incorporate national and time-specific aspects that tend to evolve over time, so does the changing focus of the debate. In the post-World War II years, under the Bretton Woods agreement, most countries pegged their currencies to the U.S. dollar, which in turn was kept convertible to gold. In the post-Bretton Woods years, after August 1971 when the United States abandoned unilaterally the convertibility of the dollar, thus bringing the Bretton Woods system to an end, the individual choices of ERP were intimately related to the global and local historical contexts, according to whether policy prioritized the use of the exchange rate as a nominal anchor (in favor of pegged or superfixed exchange rates, with dollarization or the launch of the euro as two extreme examples), as a tool to enhance price competitiveness (as in export-oriented developing countries like China in the 2000s) or as a countercyclical buffer (in favor of floating regimes with limited intervention, the prevalent view in the developed world). Similarly, the declining degree of financial dollarization, combined with the improved quality of monetary institutions, explain the growing popularity of inflation targeting with floating exchange rates in emerging economies. Finally, a prudential leaning-against-the-wind intervention to counter mean reverting global financial cycles and exchange rate swings motivates a more active—and increasingly mainstream—ERP in the late 2000s. The fact that most medium and large developing economies (and virtually all industrial ones) revealed in the 2000s a preference for exchange rate flexibility simply reflects this evolution. Is the combination of inflation targeting (IT) and countercyclical exchange rate intervention a new paradigm? It is still too early to judge. On the one hand, pegs still represent more than half of the IMF reporting countries—particularly, small ones—indicating that exchange rate anchors are still favored by small open economies that give priority to the trade dividend of stable exchange rates and find the conduct of an autonomous monetary policy too costly, due to lack of human capital, scale, or an important non-tradable sector. On the other hand, the work and the empirical evidence on the subject, particularly after the recession of 2008–2009, highlight a number of developments in the way advanced and emerging economies think of the impossible trinity that, in a context of deepening financial integration, casts doubt on the IT paradigm, places the dilemma between nominal and real stability back on the forefront, and postulates an IT 2.0, which includes selective exchange rate interventions as a workable compromise. At any rate, the exchange rate debate is still alive and open.

Article

The literature on optimum currency areas differs from that on other topics in economic theory in a number of notable respects. Most obviously, the theory is framed in verbal rather than mathematical terms. Mundell’s seminal article coining the term and setting out the theory’s basic propositions relied entirely on words rather than equations. The same was true of subsequent contributions focusing on the sectoral composition of activity and the role of fiscal flows. A handful of more recent articles specified and analyzed formal mathematical models of optimum currency areas. But it is safe to say that none of these has “taken off” in the sense of becoming the workhorse framework on which subsequent scholarship builds. The theoretical literature remains heavily qualitative and narrative compared to other areas of economic theory. While Mundell, McKinnon, Kenen, and the other founding fathers of optimum-currency-area theory provided powerful intuition, attempts to further formalize that intuition evidently contributed less to advances in economic understanding than has been the case for other theoretical literatures. Second, recent contributions to the literature on optimum currency areas are motivated to an unusual extent by a particular case, namely Europe’s monetary union. This was true already in the 1990s, when the EU’s unprecedented decision to proceed with the creation of the euro highlighted the question of whether Europe was an optimum currency area and, if not, how it might become one. That tendency was reinforced when Europe then descended into crisis starting in 2009. With only slight exaggeration it can be said that the literature on optimum currency areas became almost entirely a literature on Europe and on that continent’s failure to satisfy the relevant criteria. Third, the literature on optimum currency areas remains the product of its age. When the founders wrote, in the 1960s, banks were more strictly regulated, and financial markets were less internationalized than subsequently. Consequently, the connections between monetary integration and financial integration—whether monetary union requires banking union, as the point is now put—were neglected in the earlier literature. The role of cross-border financial flows as a destabilizing mechanism within a currency area did not receive the attention it deserved. Because much of that earlier literature was framed in a North American context—the question was whether the United States or Canada was an optimum currency area—and because it was asked by a trio of scholars, two of whom hailed from Canada and one of whom hailed from the United States, the challenges of reconciling monetary integration with political nationalism and the question of whether monetary requires political union were similarly underplayed. Given the euro area’s descent into crisis, a number of analysts have asked why economists didn’t sound louder warnings in advance. The answer is that their outlooks were shaped by a literature that developed in an earlier era when the risks and context were different.

Article

The development of a simple framework with optimizing agents and nominal rigidities is the point of departure for the analysis of three questions about fiscal and monetary policies in an open economy. The first question concerns the optimal monetary policy targets in a world with trade and financial links. In the baseline model, the optimal cooperative monetary policy is fully inward-looking and seeks to stabilize a combination of domestic inflation and output gap. The equivalence with the closed economy case, however, ends if countries do not cooperate, if firms price goods in the currency of the market of destination, and if international financial markets are incomplete. In these cases, external variables that capture international misalignments relative to the first best become relevant policy targets. The second question is about the empirical evidence on the international transmission of government spending shocks. In response to a positive innovation, the real exchange rate depreciates and the trade balance deteriorates. Standard open economy models struggle to match this evidence. Non-standard consumption preferences and a detailed fiscal adjustment process constitute two ways to address the puzzle. The third question deals with the trade-offs associated with an active use of fiscal policy for stabilization purposes in a currency union. The optimal policy assignment mandates the monetary authority to stabilize union-wide aggregates and the national fiscal authorities to respond to country-specific shocks. Permanent changes of government debt allow to smooth the distortionary effects of volatile taxes. Clear and credible fiscal rules may be able to strike the appropriate balance between stabilization objectives and moral hazard issues.

Article

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.

Article

While it is a long-standing idea in international macroeconomic theory that flexible nominal exchange rates have the potential to facilitate adjustment in international relative prices, a monetary union necessarily forgoes this mechanism for facilitating macroeconomic adjustment among its regions. Twenty years of experience in the eurozone monetary union, including the eurozone crisis, have spurred new macroeconomic research on the costs of giving up nominal exchange rates as a tool of adjustment, and the possibility of alternative policies to promote macroeconomic adjustment. Empirical evidence paints a mixed picture regarding the usefulness of nominal exchange rate flexibility: In many historical settings, flexible nominal exchanges rates tend to create more relative price distortions than they have helped resolve; yet, in some contexts exchange rate devaluations can serve as a useful correction to severe relative price misalignments. Theoretical advances in studying open economy models either support the usefulness of exchange rate movements or find them irrelevant, depending on the specific characteristics of the model economy, including the particular specification of nominal rigidities, international openness in goods markets, and international financial integration. Yet in models that embody certain key aspects of the countries suffering the brunt of the eurozone crisis, such as over-borrowing and persistently high wages, it is found that nominal devaluation can be useful to prevent the type of excessive rise in unemployment observed. This theoretical research also raises alternative polices and mechanisms to substitute for nominal exchange rate adjustment. These policies include the standard fiscal tools of optimal currency area theory but also extend to a broader set of tools including import tariffs, export subsidies, and prudential taxes on capital flows. Certain combinations of these policies, labeled a “fiscal devaluation,” have been found in theory to replicate the effects of a currency devaluation in the context of a monetary union such as the eurozone. These theoretical developments are helpful for understanding the history of experiences in the eurozone, such as the eurozone crisis. They are also helpful for thinking about options for preventing such crises in the future.

Article

The idea that prices and exchange rates adjust so as to equalize the common-currency price of identical bundles of goods—purchasing power parity (PPP)—is a topic of central importance in international finance. If PPP holds continuously, then nominal exchange rate changes do not influence trade flows. If PPP does not hold in the short run, but does in the long run, then monetary factors can affect the real exchange rate only temporarily. Substantial evidence has accumulated—with the advent of new statistical tests, alternative data sets, and longer spans of data—that purchasing power parity does not typically hold in the short run. One reason why PPP doesn’t hold in the short run might be due to sticky prices, in combination with other factors, such as trade barriers. The evidence is mixed for the longer run. Variations in the real exchange rate in the longer run can also be driven by shocks to demand, arising from changes in government spending, the terms of trade, as well as wealth and debt stocks. At time horizon of decades, trend movements in the real exchange rate—that is, systematically trending deviations in PPP—could be due to the presence of nontraded goods, combined with real factors such as differentials in productivity growth. The well-known positive association between the price level and income levels—also known as the “Penn Effect”—is consistent with this channel. Whether PPP holds then depends on the time period, the time horizon, and the currencies examined.

Article

Exchange rates often display sudden and large changes. There is considerable interest in examining how these changes affect prices, especially import and consumer prices. Exchange rate pass-through measures the responsiveness of the price of a basket of goods to changes in the exchange rate and is defined as the elasticity of the price of the basket (expressed in home currency) with respect to the exchange rate (defined as the price of foreign currency). The pass-through estimates vary across product groups, countries, and time periods, but a general finding is that pass-through tends to be significantly less than one, which implies that prices do not fully respond to a foreign currency appreciation. Pass-through to export prices tends to be smaller than pass-through to import prices. Pass-through to consumer prices is lower than both import and export price pass-through and is generally very small. One explanation of pass-through evidence focuses on the role of nominal rigidities (infrequent changes in prices set in home or foreign currency). Another explanation emphasizes the importance of markup variation in response to exchange rate changes. In models with nominal rigidities, one important issue is whether exporting firms set prices in their country’s currency (producer’s currency) or importing country’s currency (consumer’s currency). If prices are sticky in producer’s currency, flexible exchange rates are preferable as they allow for desirable relative price adjustment. On the other hand, if prices are sticky in consumer’s currency, exchange rate flexibility is not as helpful in adjusting prices and fixed exchange rates are superior. The standard model where markup is constant and all firms (at home and abroad) use either producer or consumer currency pricing is not consistent with typical estimates of pass-through to import and export prices. To explain this evidence, the standard model needs to be modified to allow for variable markup and/or a hybrid model of currency choice where some firms set prices in producer’s and others in consumer’s currency. In the case of the hybrid model, the welfare difference between fixed and flexible exchange rates is not as stark as in the pure cases of currency choice and is likely to be small. Another issue of much interest is whether inflationary environment can affect pass-through, especially to consumer prices. Inflationary environment can influence pass-through to import and consumer prices through several channels, such as persistence of costs and frequency of price change. Empirical evidence shows that pass-through to consumer prices is related to the level and variability of inflation across countries and time periods and is lower in an environment with low and stable inflation. This evidence suggests that a monetary policy regime that targets low inflation will produce a low pass-through environment, which would dampen the price effects of exchange rate changes.

Article

Alessandro Rebucci and Chang Ma

This paper reviews selected post–Global Financial Crisis theoretical and empirical contributions on capital controls and identifies three theoretical motives for the use of capital controls: pecuniary externalities in models of financial crises, aggregate demand externalities in New Keynesian models of the business cycle, and terms of trade manipulation in open-economy models with pricing power. Pecuniary and demand externalities offer the most compelling case for the adoption of capital controls, but macroprudential policy can also address the same distortions. So capital controls generally are not the only instrument that can do the job. If evaluated through the lenses of the new theories, the empirical evidence reviewed suggests that capital controls can have the intended effects, even though the extant literature is inconclusive as to whether the effects documented amount to a net gain or loss in welfare terms. Terms of trade manipulation also provides a clear-cut theoretical case for the use of capital controls, but this motive is less compelling because of the spillover and coordination issues inherent in the use of control on capital flows for this purpose. Perhaps not surprisingly, only a handful of countries have used capital controls in a countercyclical manner, while many adopted macroprudential policies. This suggests that capital control policy might entail additional costs other than increased financing costs, such as signaling the bad quality of future policies, leakages, and spillovers.