Monday, January 24, 2005
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About those official purchases of the dollar...
If this report by Chris Giles in the Financial Times is any indication, the official central bank purchases of the dollar -- the primary means through which the United States has financed its current account deficit in recent years -- is going to be tapering off:
Thanks to Andrew for the link.posted by Dan on 01.24.05 at 09:58 AM
This article loses me. The study seems to say that central banks have ALREADY - in the PAST two years - rebalanced their reserves to increase their exposure to the euro. Where does it say anything about the FUTURE few years? The study seems to me to be evidence that reserves have already been rebalanced, not that there will be additional rebalancing away from the dollar in the future.posted by: Al on 01.24.05 at 09:58 AM [permalink]
Your problem understanding the data could be resolved if you look at it as a goal in some future year that they are now starting to move towards. For example, they might have a goal of shifting from 25% euros to 33% Euros in 8 years.
I think looking at it that way would resolve your problem.posted by: spencer on 01.24.05 at 09:58 AM [permalink]
I'm afraid I still don't understand, spencer. How does the data in any way support your view that further rebalancing away from the dollar is a "goal in some future year that they are now starting to move towards"? The data only seem to support a statement about the past, not about the future.
Look, if I said that, in the past two years I rebalanced by personal portfolio away from stocks in toward bonds, what would that tell you about what I am going to do in the next few years? Would it imply that I intended to FURTHER rebalance my portfolio away from stocks toward bonds more than has already been accomplished?posted by: Al on 01.24.05 at 09:58 AM [permalink]
Dan, don't believe everything you read.posted by: General Glut on 01.24.05 at 09:58 AM [permalink]
According to Giles, survey respondents did not include anyone from the Japanese or Chinese central banks, which because of the enormous current account surpluses these countries run with the United States hold more dollars than any other country.posted by: Zathras on 01.24.05 at 09:58 AM [permalink]
Visit Brad Sester's blog
Did anyone notice that none of the banks in the actual article were named because they specifically requested to remain anonymous?posted by: Dennis Castle on 01.24.05 at 09:58 AM [permalink]
It isn't just an FT problem. CNBC just confirmed our thoughts that the bear meme and biased reporting has managed to impact investor sentiment. Or at least the sentiment of money managers.Take a look at this set of facts that has an impact on all of us.
What's wrong with this picture? The FT highlights four separate pieces based on this report. The articles by their "Econopmics Editor" contain this treatment of the report:
The dollar was also undermined by a report from Central Banking Publications, which showed that of 65 central banks surveyed, 39 increased exposure to the euro in their forex reserves between September and December, while 29 cut their exposure to dollars.
But in a separate article by the commentator "Lex," we learn halfway through that:
More importantly, a third of those who responded said they would raise the proportion of non-dollar currencies in 2005. The survey did not include Japan or China, the countries with the largest forex reserves...
So the FT trumpets that "Central Bank Fund Managers" are reducing dollar holdings while burying the fact that this survey did not even include the two central banks that between them hold more than half of US Treasuries! WTF??
You could argue that this is simply the traditional pessimism and caution of the British banker mentality-- glass half full. But a transparent attempt to distort the obvious fact that a survey which leaves out the two 800-lb gorillas of the Treasury markets is largely meaningless suggests something else at work. Note that the second article mentioned, the "lex" piece, refers to several "event risks", including not just the Iraqi elections but "Bush's inauguration speech".
Does "lex" really mean to argue that Bush has the same effect on the markets as terrorist attacks? Cute.
Add the FT to the list of shameless MSM spinners
Thibaud, a glass half full is optimism; a glass half empty is pessimism.
Japan and China, along with the central banks of several other Asian countries, have a specific reason for wanting to keep the dollar strong relative to their currencies -- they are still heavily dependent for their economic growth on exports to the United States. At some point this will change, and countries that have invested large amounts of money in US Treasury notes at historically low interest rates will start looking around for something offering a better rate of return. American action to reduce the size of our current account deficit, and our federal budget deficit, before that happens would be advisable.
I acknowledge the contrary view that the salient fact concerning this issue is that the mainstream media are being mean and bullies toward the President of the United States. I am unpersuaded by this view, but recognize how important it is to some people even now that the Presidential campaign is over.posted by: Zathras on 01.24.05 at 09:58 AM [permalink]
I'm not sure if thibaud, eric, dennis, asif, general glut & al are arguing that the FT should have included China and Japan in the article, or if they protest the idea that investing in the dollar will cause exposure to increased risk.
Perhaps China and Japan are 800lb gorillas; why should they be included in this report? I would argue that their 800lb status is a good reason Not to be included. A) Given the quantity of US debt they purchase, it is clear that they are outliers in terms of central banks and the inclusion of their data would skew the statistics of 65 other central banks. B) Given the relationships in currency valuation and trade between the US/China/Japan, there is a self-interest for China and Japan to behave (i.e., to purchase US dollars) in a manner which other countries do not feel. C) Accepting A & B, how does one include China and Japan in a survey of central bankers which is suppose to be anonymous and make the information presented in any way meaningful.
As to whether there is legitimate grounds to protest the idea that investing in the dollar will cause exposure to increased risk (that is why 45 out of 65 central banks have decreased their exposure to the dollar, right? That is why FT is telling us this, right? To let us know that that is where 2/3rd of central banks are or are heading, right? or are the FT letting their politics getting in the way of their ability to think too?), only Glut appears to have logic in his argument(as opposed to emotion. Paranoid emotion.) and his is an argument of time: it won't happen Yet. (I agree. But it will happen. The Euro rocks.)
The rest betray a certain American-centric bias. They argue as if there are only two sides to this: Dollar vs Euro; as if this type of reporting could only be done in country disinterested of either of the two currencies; a country like...um... England.
"Being mean and bullies": Tee hee!!
Not to be mean to the hapless scribes at the FT, but it would be nice if a financial publication could offer a bit of quantitative analysis of risk-adjusted returns, yield curves, bond arbitrages and the like instead of quoting the results of polls. Then again, Bush-bashing doesn't demand that the half-full brains of the FT's editors accomodate an understanding of either bond markets or bond math.
And thanks, Z, for pointing out the blindlingly obvious non-news about how investors seek "higher rates of return." It would be a service to the readers if the FT, or perhaps you yourself, could tell us why, precisely, the Japanese and Chinese central bankers are not swapping out Treasuries for euro-denominated debt. Do you know?
Might this be the really important story? Wouldn't it be more enlightening to explore possible reasons for these bankers' behavior so as to understand more clearly what triggers and sequences of events would cause them to dump Treasuries in the near term? Simply predicting that this will happen someday is about as useful and intelligent as an article predicting that oil will hit $80/bbl at some unspecified future date.
Of course it would be a good thing to reduce our deficit, though the fundamental causes of the dollar's vulnerability are a wee bit more variegated and more complex than the half-full brains of the FT's editors can accomodate. For starters, the woefully poor state of both European consumer demand and US household savings, neither of which has very much to do with this administration or for that matter its predecessor.
Wouldn't it be more accurate, and worthy of a leading business publication, to focus on or at least mention these aspects of the story? Instead of concocting "risk events" such as "Bush's inaugural speech"?
Yes, yes, I know that US presidents have historically made a point of articulating currency strategies in their inaugural address. Sure, JFK's "ask not what the greenback can do for you," etc. But it might be wiser for the FT's boys and girls to at least try to put out something that a trader or banker could take seriously.posted by: thibaud on 01.24.05 at 09:58 AM [permalink]
Dan. Thanks for the plug.
A couple of points.
a) there is no doubt that the world's central banks added a ton of reserves in q4, led by the People's Bank of China (PBOC). I am not sure that this makes the survey suspect -- intent (policy goals) matter. If 1/2 the world's central banks want to cut their pace of reserve accumulation (and cut the pace of their dollar reserve accumulation even more), that is news. If they succeed, there will be less reserve financing for the US unless other central banks -- i.e. the Chinese and Japanese -- step up their purchases. But that increases the burden born by China and Japan. The more dollars' the PBOC buys today, the bigger its losses when the renminbi is revalued. They may not be able to carry out their goals, but there is still a germ of new information here.
b) in 2003, the world's central banks bought $440 billion in dollar reserves, and $60 billion in non-dollar reserves (from the BIS). Actually, central banks bought more than $440 billion of dollars, since the PBOC gave $45 billion to two state banks. over 85% of new reserves went into dollars. There is little doubt that the world's central banks upped their purchases of euros this year (see Bank of Thailand, Bank of Russia). I estimated (http://www.roubiniglobal.com/setser/archives/2005/01/if_asia_is_fina.html) that the world's central banks bought around $620 billion in new reserves. Say $400 went into dollars, and $220 billion went into euros. Overall, the central banks still provided two times as much financing to the US as to Europe, and bought two times as many dollars as euros. But the fraction of new reseves going into dollars went down, and taking into account valuation gains (the fall in the dollar increases the value of CBanks existing holdings of euros), the fraction of dollars in CBanks overall portfolio went down.
I don't know the exact breakdown of dollar purchases and euro purchases in 2004 -- i am awaiting the BIS data. But it is am important question for the US -- as is the absolute increase in dollar reserves going forward.posted by: brad on 01.24.05 at 09:58 AM [permalink]
the shift to structural budget deficits of 3.5% of GDP (the CBO estimate for FY 05 comes out tomorrow, along with the administration's request for $80 billion in additional war financing) has significantly reduced national savings in the US.
Central bank purchases of dollars -- and US treasuries in particular -- have been a major source of financing for the US. I suspect that there is plenty of market interest the activities of the world's central banks. There is a big difference between $400 billion in new central bank financing for the US in 05, and say $200 billion.posted by: brad on 01.24.05 at 09:58 AM [permalink]
I love the hard research that goes into a story in which rising short interest signifies bearishness while decreasing short interest signifies... bearishness. Also note that though the article screams "Dollar Slides as Short Interest Crumbles", it ends by, ahem, admitting that the dollar later firmed to sit virtually flat on the day at $1.3040 against the euro. In other words, it, um, er, didn't really "slide" after all.
Also note the delightful absurdity of this sequence:
The dollar was also undermined by a report from Central Banking Publications, which showed that of 65 central banks surveyed, 39 increased exposure to the euro in their forex reserves between September and December, while 29 cut their exposure to dollars....
The report caused barely a ripple in the market, however. “We think that the market has been aware of this diversification for some time,” said Clyde Wardle, currency strategist at HSBC.
So let's see: the report undermined the "dollar", but the report did not affect significantly the "market" for dollars. Right.
Wait a sec-- I get it. This is actually business reporting as done by a left-wing semiotician. "The dollar", in FT parlance, is a a signifier, a totemic phrase of sorts denoting not any concrete or measurable commodity in the real world but rather that social construct known as the Bush Administration, which all right-thinking folk know is doomed by its insufferable presumption. In other words, never mind that the "market" stayed flat; the ultimate reality, as clearly indicated by the screaming headline of this and other FT articles, is that BUsH's dOLLaR is MyDoOMeD!!!
Perhaps the article's quoted trader Chris Gothard is right. Alternatively, the article's quoted trader Monica Fan may be right. But what's certain is that the FT's writers are spinning, shamelessly. It's embarrassing.posted by: thibaud on 01.24.05 at 09:58 AM [permalink]
I suspect that there is plenty of market interest the activities of the world's central banks.
So do I. But wouldn't you agree that the Japanese and Chinese central banks' calculations, available options, recent behavior and statements, etc are a bit more important to the dollar's course than those of the countries surveyed? Why the fetish over an incomplete survey that merely tabulates past behavior, anyway? As the FT itself recognizes, the market is divided as to whether this behavior by smaller market participants signals an end to dollar shorting or a prelude to more dollar shorting. Is this good journalism?
Imagine a story on the US housing market that tabulated-- not analyzed, mind you, but merely chalked up one particular binary activity, increase or decrease in purchases, by one set of market participants during a recent period. Let's say, the change in homeowning vs renting. Sure, it's an interesting data point, but is it the most important data point? And is it by itself worthy of four major articles? In any case, what justifies a false headline which the story's own content belies?posted by: thibaud on 01.24.05 at 09:58 AM [permalink]
We know that the Japanese have been out of the market since March. Unless the FT has the scoop of 2005, no one knows if/ when they will get back in. We all like to guess.
China matters a lot. It has $600 billion in reserves, and is adding to them rapidly.
But Korea, Taiwan and India together have about $570 billion in reserves, and are adding to their reserves rapidly too.
Russia, Singapore and Hong Kong all have over $100 billion in reserves too. Thailand and Malaysia each hold $50 billion or more. Together these five coutries have over $400 billion in reserves -- and some of these countries are adding to their reserves rapidly too.
There may not have been "news" in the central bank survey for market traders, but the survey does provide hints as to what some of these countries hope to be able to do in the future.
The FT hyped the story on its front page, I'll give you that. But the extent of US dependence on central banks for financing is one of the great underreported stories of the day, and of great interest to those FT readers who do not spend their days reading I-banking reports that try to track Asian central bank reserve management and figure out their impact on the euro/dollar!posted by: brad on 01.24.05 at 09:58 AM [permalink]
Isn't the best time to publicly announce your financial plans, once you've already executed them? We know the dollar has slid; we know reserve allocations of USD have slipped. Right? So either they're going to stop now, or keep going, assuming the dollar continues to drift downward in general.posted by: torridjoe on 01.24.05 at 09:58 AM [permalink]
Thanks for providing hard data on individual countries' central bank reserves, Brad. Would that the FT's journalists could have been bothered to provide these basic data points in at least one of their scream stories.
The FT hyped the story on its front page, I'll give you that. But the extent of US dependence on central banks for financing is one of the great underreported stories of the day,
That doesn't justify botching the story and writing headlines that contradict the reality reported in the very same article. Spain in 1898 was a reactionary and repressive overlord in Cuba. Does that justify the hype and bullshit of the yellow press? Is the standard of WmRHearst good enough for the FT?
And even if one agrees that our reliance on foreign debt is worrisome-- I certainly do-- how does it help the public's understanding of the situation to distort and omit facts and in places simply make things up? Creeping Moore-ism may be OK for Hollywood. It's unacceptable in a major financial publication.
and of great interest to those FT readers who do not spend their days reading I-banking reports that try to track Asian central bank reserve management and figure out their impact on the euro/dollar!
You mean the FT's slumming, eh? It used to be a specialist publication aimed at City bankers and expat Americans in London, and then branched out during the 1980s to appeal to Wall Streeters tracking, among other things, eurobonds and currency movements. Of all the subjects that the FT covers, surely they and their core readership have as good an understanding of the forces driving currency and bond movements as anyone.
So the appearance of such horseshit non-reporting appear in today's FT can only be explained by a new phenomenon in the FT's reporting: the kind of Bush-hatred that makes normally reasonable people exaggerate and make fools of themselves.
Let's hope that the blogosphere-- including your writing (thanks again), maybe Brad DeLong's and others-- can restore sane and fact-based research to the discussion. The FT's become a prettier pink version of fish wrap.
I believe that the exclusion of Japan and China is quite reasonable, as they are openly pegging or manipulating their currencies. The Chinese must recycle the dollars they receive via trade back into the US (mostly short and intermediate treasuries) to maintain their currency peg. The Japanese have been printing Yen and buying dollars to prevent the dollar from appreciating. This is easily observable when one sees the Yen unusually weak in the 101-103 area when other currencies are very stong.
The report suggests that those central banks who are not pegging their currencies are diversifying out of US dollars. This is an important psychological shift. The Chinese and Japanese will eventually follow suit once enough damage is done with their current "strategy".
In the mean time. the US dollar is likely to continue its recent rally as the sentiment towards it reached a universally negative climax in late 2004.posted by: james on 01.24.05 at 09:58 AM [permalink]
Forgive my ignorance on international currency issues but it seems, according to this article that the US wants China to let it's currency float. Yet, it seems a big reason China keeps buying US treasuries is precisely to keep the US dollar - and the Chinese yuan - equally weak on the world market, thereby keeping Chinese products cheap on the US market. So, if the Chinese let their currency float, and consequently increase, wouldn't they lose a huge incentive to invest in US treasuries, and they may decide to put their money where the return is higher - like Euros - since they no longer have to worry about pegging their own currency to the US dollar and keeping their goods cheap in the US? Wouldn't floating the Chinese currency be precisely the sort of event that leads to precipitous disinvestment in US treasuries and huge spikes in US interests rates?posted by: Elrod on 01.24.05 at 09:58 AM [permalink]
elrod -- I think your intuition is right on. but i would put less emphasis on what china does with its existing stock of reserves (it is the classic player who is so big that it cannot do much w/o moving the market against it), and more emphasis on what a real Chinese revaluation (say 30-40%) would do to china's future reserve accumulation. If China goes from adding $200 billion to its reserves, 2/3 in $ and 1/3 in euro (just a guess), to adding $50 b, 1/2 in $ and 1/2 in euro, it will be providing a lot less financing to the US, and buying far fewer treasuries and agencies. Personally, i suspect that would drive interest rates up. That's why a sensible policy would combine Chinese/ Asian currency revaluation with a serious effort to reduce the fiscal deficit ... one move puts pressure on US interest rates, the other takes pressure off.
i doubt Bush is serious about cutting the consolidated deficit (if he does social security, he certainly is not, and the $80 b doesn't help), but i also doubt China is willing to do more than a cosmetic currency move. a 5-10% revaluation doesn't really change a thing.posted by: brad on 01.24.05 at 09:58 AM [permalink]
Elrod hits on a central dilemma America faces with respect to China especially, and more broadly Asia in general. As long as they buy dollars their currencies stay weak relative to ours. Their goods are cheaper here, which restrains inflation, and industries dependent on exports to the United States keep millions employed there.
But the resulting enormous trade deficit is the largest single factor putting downward pressure on the dollar. The Bush administration's hope is, or was, that a Chinese float of their currency would permit a gradual strengthening of the dollar, making Chinese imports more expensive and reducing the trade deficit without the need for a sudden, disruptive jump in interest rates.
The Chinese are not interested in that now, but as their internal market and other regional economies develop Chinese dependence on the American market is bound to decrease. This is also true of other Asian economies, precisely because as the enormous Chinese market grows it will attract their exports whether the American market is still attractive or not.
The point is that since Asian dependence on the American market will not last indefinitely, upward revaulations of Asian currencies against the dollar are inevitable. For us this will mean higher import prices and higher interest rates; for the Chinese it will mean less expensive inputs as well as an opportunity to stop putting so much of the Chinese current account surplus in slowly appreciating or even depreciating assets like American Treasuries.
Of course, a government like China's could, under some circumstances, make decisions about how many dollars to buy for other than strictly economic reasons. It could conceivably accept some reduction in imports to the United States if it felt that causing economic pain in America might be a good way to influence policy in Washington toward, say, Taiwan. This may be the most important of many reasons why the trade and budget deficits we are running now should not be viewed with the politically convenient complacency characteristic of this administration's defenders and the President himself.posted by: Zathras on 01.24.05 at 09:58 AM [permalink]
"Dollar" in the second paragraph, second sentence above should read "renminbi," the Chinese currency.posted by: Zathras on 01.24.05 at 09:58 AM [permalink]
It seems to me a natural outgrowth of the increase in value of the euro to that of the dollar that, European Bankers would find their holding increase in favor of the euro. The FT article doesn't mention it but I would not be surprised to see the percentage change in the holding correspond directly to the exchange rate change. All that would mean is that the euros the banks are holding are just worth more than they used to be.
More worrying is many American economists are starting to believe the dollar has slipped to its lowest levels and will start to climb on the world markets. The US continues to have very low inflation and above average growth. If the bankers are just now going to reduce their dollar holdings they may find themselves later chasing after their currency losses when the dollar increases relative to the euro.
Next, the EU, I believe, requires a certain level of euro investment from their member nations. With the admittance of several new countries, the banks may have been forced to increase their holdings to stabilize the euro.
Finally, most central banks hold dollars because of its stability and not necessarily for its investment returns. The euro increased despite France’s subsidies to it’s industry which is against the EU rules. I would be more interested in know the holding mix of just English and Scottish banks because they have much more freedom with their holdings being outside the EU.
The Chinese market quite a long ways from becoming "less dependent" on the American market, and from generating true internal demand sufficient for itself and its regional neighbors. The size alone of America's trade deficit with China as a percent of China's overall GDP (call it 'the chunk') is staggering, and to paraphrase a recent comment, "a little bit of [independence] won't change a thing." The Chunk will be, for a very, very long time, large enough to be a central player, particularly in a nation that absolutely has to keep growing to accommodate the workforce. (Versus the EU which has a vastly larger economy than China, is similarly dependent on trade for growth, yet has nothing approaching the social concerns over employment levels.)posted by: Michael on 01.24.05 at 09:58 AM [permalink]
"The US continues to have very low inflation and above average growth."
(1) CPI inflation was 3.5 per cent last year, and core inflation about 2.5, before we even get started on hedonics. There's no $US advantage here
(2) Why should purchasers of bonds care about growth?posted by: John Quiggin on 01.24.05 at 09:58 AM [permalink]
You may be interested in the response from the executive editor of the FT to my letter expressing concerns raised about the bullshit "Dollar Slides" story:
Dear Mr ________,
"dealt with"?? Sounds rather sinister, but hey, it's an extraordinary f***-up for a publication like the FT. Apparently they care about their credibility more than Pinch Sulzberger does his. Good for them.posted by: thibaud on 01.24.05 at 09:58 AM [permalink]
Are you able to calculate a risk-adjusted rate of return forecast for a portfolio of equities or a spread on currencies six to twelve months out for the dollar? In my experience, except in the most general and vague forward forecasting such forecasts are worse than useless - they mislead. They can only extrapolate based on assumptions and unfortunately all the decisions being made are political and not economic.
Only a fool would either believe or try to predict a risk-adjusted rate of return beyond the near future at this point. The whole reason why no one knows what is going to happen is a great deal depends on the political choices of a relatively small number of people whom nobody knows how they will act.posted by: oldman on 01.24.05 at 09:58 AM [permalink]
unfortunately all the decisions being made are political and not economic
Really? What's an insider like you doing slumming here? Care to share the latest from your colleagues in Tokyo?
Seriously, I'll agree that this topic has engendered more noise, spam and outright bullshit from people who are more eager to advance their political agendas than to understand and address the various challenges that we, the Asians and the Europeans variously (and jointly) face. I was sorry to see the FT's hacks jumping into that game as well. Apparently David Walker of the FT shares my concern.posted by: thibaud on 01.24.05 at 09:58 AM [permalink]
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