Dollar reaches breaking point as banks shift reserves

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Richard Moore

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Oct 13, 2009, 2:58:52 PM10/13/09
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Dollar reaches breaking point as banks shift reserves

Central banks flush with record reserves are increasingly snubbing dollars in favor of euros and yen, further pressuring the greenback after its biggest two- quarter rout in almost two decades

Policy makers boosted foreign currency holdings by $413 billion last quarter, the most since at least 2003, to $7.3 trillion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Nations reporting currency breakdowns put 63 percent of the new cash into euros and yen in April, May and June, the latest Barclays Capital data show. That’s the highest percentage in any quarter with more than an $80 billion increase. 

World leaders are acting on threats to dump the dollar while the Obama administration shows a willingness to tolerate a weaker currency in an effort to boost exports and the economy as long as it doesn’t drive away the nation’s creditors. The diversification signals that the currency won’t rebound anytime soon after losing 10.3 percent on a trade-weighted basis the past six months, the biggest drop since 1991. 

“Global central banks are getting more serious about diversification, whereas in the past they used to just talk about it,” said Steven Englander, a former Federal Reserve researcher who is now the chief U.S. currency strategist at Barclays in New York. “It looks like they are really backing away from the dollar.” 

The dollar’s 37 percent share of new reserves fell from about a 63 percent average since 1999. Englander concluded in a report that the trend “accelerated” in the third quarter. He said in an interview that “for the next couple of months, the forces are still in place” for continued diversification. 

America’s currency has been under siege as the Treasury sells a record amount of debt to finance a budget deficit that totaled $1.4 trillion in fiscal 2009 ended Sept. 30. 

Intercontinental Exchange Inc.’s Dollar Index, which tracks the currency’s performance against the euro, yen, pound, Canadian dollar, Swiss franc and Swedish krona, fell to 75.77 last week, the lowest level since August 2008 and down from the high this year of 89.624 on March 4. The index, trading at 76.489 today, is within six points of its record low reached in March 2008. 

Foreign companies and officials are starting to say their economies are getting hurt because of the dollar’s weakness. 

Yukitoshi Funo, executive vice president of Toyota City, Japan-based Toyota Motor Corp., the nation’s biggest automaker, called the yen’s strength “painful.” Fabrice Bregier, chief operating officer of Toulouse, France-based Airbus SAS, the world’s largest commercial planemaker, said on Oct. 8 the euro’s 11 percent rise since April was “challenging.” 

The economies of both Japan and Europe depend on exports that get more expensive whenever the greenback slumps. European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet said in Venice on Oct. 8 that U.S. policy makers’ preference for a strong dollar is “extremely important in the present circumstances.” 

“Major reserve-currency issuing countries should take into account and balance the implications of their monetary policies for both their own economies and the world economy with a view to upholding stability of international financial markets,” China President Hu Jintao told the Group of 20 leaders in Pittsburgh on Sept. 25, according to an English translation of his prepared remarks. China is America’s largest creditor. 

Developing countries have likely sold about $30 billion for euros, yen and other currencies each month since March, according to strategists at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch. 

That helped reduce the dollar’s weight at central banks that report currency holdings to 62.8 percent as of June 30, the lowest on record, the latest International Monetary Fund data show. The quarter’s 2.2 percentage point decline was the biggest since falling 2.5 percentage points to 69.1 percent in the period ended June 30, 2002. 

“The diversification out of the dollar will accelerate,” said Fabrizio Fiorini, a money manager who helps oversee $12 billion at Aletti Gestielle SGR SpA in Milan. “People are buying the euro not because they want that currency, but because they want to get rid of the dollar. In the long run, the U.S. will not be the same powerful country that it once was.” 

Central banks’ moves away from the dollar are a temporary trend that will reverse once the Fed starts raising interest rates from near zero, according to Christoph Kind, who helps manage $20 billion as head of asset allocation at Frankfurt Trust in Germany. 

“The world is currently flush with the U.S. dollar, which is available at no cost,” Kind said. “If there’s a turnaround in U.S. monetary policy, there will be a change of perception about the dollar as a reserve currency. 

(Source: Bloomberg) - 


 

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