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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 recent global economic crisis has renewed interest in the nature and history of monetary policy, the distributional effects of central bank policy, central bank governance, and the personalities at the helm of major central banks. In modern times, a country’s central bank formulates, or, to a minimum, implements, a country’s monetary policy, or the process of adjustment of a country’s money supply to achieve some combination of stable prices and sustainable economic growth. Monetary policy depends heavily on a country’s exchange rate system. Under fixed exchange rates, the country’s commitment to keep the level of the currency at a certain level dictates monetary policy to a great degree. As the gold standard was unraveling after World War I, many countries experienced high inflation or even hyperinflation. A similar situation faced monetary policy after the collapse of the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates in the 1970s. By the 1980s, however, countries turned toward central bank independence as an institutional arrangement to control inflation. The current issues surrounding monetary policy have emerged from the historical increase in central bank independence and the 2007 economic and financial crisis. In particular, the opacity of central bank decisions, given their autonomy to pursue stable prices without political interference, has increased the demand for transparency and communication with the government, the public, and financial markets. Also, the 2007 crisis pushed central banks toward unconventional measures and macro-prudential regulation, and brought back into focus the monetary policy of the euro area.

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

War, trade, and money synergistically developed over three millennia, each proving important to the emergence of nation-states. By the 19th century, fiduciary money—forms of money based on trust, such as paper money—catalyzed the development of national monetary and banking systems. As nexus of international finance and metropole of the world’s largest empire, the United Kingdom garnered political and economic power. But over the course of two world wars, power shifted to the United States. Small successes and great failures of the interwar period influenced creation of Bretton Woods institutions, completing a transformation from an international monetary system into an international financial system [IFS], which included not only monetary flows but also a formal, institutionalized system of governance. The dollar’s flows became the IFS’ lifeblood, engendering structural power for the United States, which has been held in place through reserve currency status, institutional stickiness through banking and currency trading, and ideational influence. Introduction of the Euro and attempts in Asia to dismantle the “Asian Bloc” have shaken, but not removed, American structural power. Money’s foundations have always rested on trust, trading, and risk taking; emergence of extensive credit and virtual money, and related security concerns, bring forth new topics resting on these old foundations.

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

The political economy of exchange rates is a scholarly field of study that examines why governments adjust the value of their currencies, choose to have the exchange rate fix or float in its value, or agree or disagree on international rules for the exchange rate. Modern research on this field of study began in the 1970s and has developed several theories to examine these questions over the past decades. Economic theories of exchange rate regimes frequently cite three economic models, the Mundell-Fleming model, optimal currency area theory, and the time-inconsistency problem. International relations theories have focused on the global political economy of regimes, including the role of hegemonic leadership in shaping regimes and resolving disputes, the role of interstate negotiation in the formation and maintenance of regimes. The analysis of negotiation saw contributions from three major traditions of international relations theory: neo-liberalism, realism, and constructivism. Research into second major topic, domestic exchange rate regimes, examines how governments make these decisions. During the 1990s, recognition that governments’ de jure commitment to fixed, floating, or other form of exchange rate did not necessarily correspond to actual practice initiated a new round of research. Scholarly engagements with this puzzle include optimal currency area theory, national interest-based approaches, and national identity-based approaches. There has also been scholarship on the conundrum of de jure v. de facto exchange rate regimes. Another area of research, exchange rate valuation, breaks down into sectoral interest-group approaches focused on production and finance, institutional approaches focused on elections and central bank independence, and some ideational approaches focused on economic and political ideology. Anticipated areas of future research include further development of the political economy of exchange rate valuation regimes; inquiry into the interaction of the spread of populist nationalist movements and exchange rates, leading possibly to more mercantilist valuation policies; and investigation of the length of time governments choose to fix or float their exchange rates.

Article

Jane I. Guyer and Karin Pallaver

African peoples have managed multiple currencies, for all the classic four functions of money, for at least a thousand years: within each society’s own circuits, in regional exchange, and across the continent’s borders with the rest of the world. Given the materials of some of these currencies, and the general absence of formalized denominations until the colonial period, some early European accounts defined certain transactions as barter. The management of multiplicity is traced through four eras: a) the precolonial period, with some monies locally produced and acquired, and others imported through intercontinental trades, such as the Atlantic slave trade, and eventually under the expansion of capitalism to Africa; b) the colonial period, when precolonial monies, in some places, still circulated with official monies; c) postcolonial national monies for the new African states; and d) the most recent phase of multiplicity in use, due to migration and sales across borders as well as to the use of new technologies, such as mobile money. The management of multiplicity thereby has a long history and continues to be an inventive frontier. History and ethnography meet on common ground to address these dynamics through empirical study of money in practice, and broader scholarship has drawn on a large variety of original sources.

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

Kurt Hübner

Even the most critical observers of the creation of the euro found some nice words on the occasion of its 10th anniversary. And yet it needed only a marginal event like the announcement of the newly elected Greek government that the previously stated public debt ratio was gravely miscalculated to move the euro into a critical crisis zone. Swiftly the attention of private credit markets turned to more member states of the eurozone, only to eventually detect that financial stability of banks did not meet sustainability indicators. What is often labeled as “eurozone crisis” is better understood by a political-economic forensic analysis that rather speaks of eurozone crises. First, the causes for financial and then sovereign debt crises of Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland (to name only the most prominent) differ fundamentally. They were triggered by the same events but caused by differing factors. Second, it is a crisis of economic governance, and thus an institutional crisis that needs fundamental institutional changes. Third, it is a crisis of political leadership. The overlapping character as well as the interplay of those three dimensions hampers a proper understanding of the dynamics of the processes that started in 2010. By differentiating between national crisis causes, triggering mechanisms, policy responses, and multi-level crises management, we suggest a comprehensive analytical framework that may guide current as well as future research in the operating of an incomplete currency union.

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.