Nations race to Devalue their Currencies to Boost Exports and Destroy Retirement Savings

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 3rd, 2013

Week in Review

If you ever traveled to a foreign country you know what you had to do before buying foreign goods.  You had to exchange your currency first.  That’s why they have currency exchanges at border crossings and airports.  So people can convert their currency to the local currency.  So they can buy stuff.  And when traveling people liked to go to areas that have a weaker currency.  Because a stronger currency can get more of a weaker currency in exchange.  Allowing your own currency to buy a lot more in that foreign country.  And it’s the same for buying exported goods from another country.

The weaker a country’s currency the more of it people can get in exchange for their currency.  Allowing importers to buy a lot more of those exported goods.  Which helps the export economy of that nation with a weak currency.  In fact having a weak currency is such an easy way to boost your exports that countries purposely make their currencies weaker.  As they race each other to see who can devalue their currency more.  And gain the biggest trade advantage (see Dollar Thrives in Age of Competitive Devaluations by A. Gary Shilling posted 1/28/2013 on Bloomberg).

In periods of prolonged economic pain — notably the 2007-2009 global recession and the ensuing subpar recovery — international cooperation gives way to an every-nation-for-itself attitude. This manifests itself in protectionist measures, specifically competitive devaluations that are seen as a way to spur exports and to retard imports.

Trouble is, if all nations devalue their currencies at the same time, foreign trade is disrupted and economic growth is depressed…

Decreasing the value of a currency is much easier than supporting it. When a country wants to depress its own currency, it can create and sell unlimited quantities. In contrast, if it wants to support its own money, it needs to sell the limited quantities of other currencies it holds, or borrow from other central banks…

Easy central-bank policy, especially quantitative easing, may not be intended to depress a currency, though it has that effect by hyping the supply of liquidity. Also, low interest rates discourage foreign investors from buying those currencies. [Japanese] Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has accused the U.S. and the euro area of using low rates to weaken their currencies.

“Central banks around the world are printing money, supporting their economies and increasing exports,” Abe said recently. “America is the prime example. If it goes on like this, the yen will inevitably strengthen. It’s vital to resist this.”

So a cheap and devalued currency really helps an export economy.  But there is a downside to that.  In some of these touristy areas with a really weak currency it is not uncommon for some people to offer to sell you things for American dollars.  Or British pounds.  Or Eurozone euros.  Why?  Because their currency is so week it loses its purchasing power at an alarming rate.  So fast that they don’t want to hold onto any of it.  Preferring to hold onto a stronger foreign currency.  Because it holds its value better than their own currency.

When a nation prints money it puts more of them into circulation.  Which makes each one worth less.  And when you devalue your currency it takes more of it to buy the things it once did.  So prices rise.  This is the flipside to inflation.  Higher prices.  And what does a devalued currency and rising prices do to a retiree?  It lowers their quality of life.  Because the money they’ve saved for retirement becomes worth less just as prices are rising.  Causing their retirement savings to run out much sooner than they planned.  They may live 15 years after retirement while their savings may only last for 5 or 6 of those years.

Printing money to devalue a currency to expand exports hurts those who have lived most responsibly.  Those who have saved for their retirement.  Making them ever more dependent on meager state pensions.  Or welfare.  And when that’s not enough to cover their expenses they have no choice but to go without.  We see this in health care.  Where those soaring costs have an inflationary component.  With the government squeezing doctors on Medicare reimbursements doctors are refusing some life-saving treatment for seniors.  Because the government won’t reimburse the doctors and hospitals for these treatments.  Or doctors will simply not take any new Medicare patients.  As they are unable to provide medical services for free.  And with their savings gone seniors will have no choice but to go without medical care.

The United States, Britain, Europe, Japan—they are all struggling to provide for their seniors.  As China will, too.  And a big part of their problem is their inflationary monetary policies.  Coupled with an aging population.  The Keynesians in these nations have long discouraged their people from saving.  For Keynesians see private savings as leaks in the economy.  They prefer people to spend their money instead of saving it.  Trusting in state pensions and state-provided health care to provide for these people in their retirement.  Which is why the United States, Britain, Europe and Japan are struggling to provide for their seniors in retirement.  A direct consequence of printing too much money.  And not letting people take care of their own retirement and health care.

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Printing Money and Screwing Friends

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 12th, 2010

My Coworker, the Cheap Canadian Bastard

I worked with a Canadian once.  A real cheap bastard.  Yeah, he had some financial issues.   But they weren’t my issues.  And I got tired of subsidizing his problems by driving him to lunch every day.  And I got tired of the conversations.  He brought up every negative story about America.  Belittled our president.  Chastised America for not signing on to the Kyoto Protocol.  And said that we did not honor our trade agreement concerning softwood lumber (that his government was subsidizing in order to undersell their American competitors).

What really bothered me was that he was a Canadian that lived near the border but worked in the U.S.  He criticized America but he chose to work in America instead of Canada.  Why?  Because he could get paid more in America.  And there were the perks of crossing the border every day.  He gassed his car up in the United States.  And his wife’s car.  Why?  Because our gas prices were cheaper.  Yeah, he would criticize America until he was blue in the face, but he took every opportunity to escape the taxes that paid for all those things that made his country superior to mine.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I like Canada.  I just don’t like hypocrisy.  He made good money over here.  And with a much more favorable exchange rate back then, that translated into big dollars on the other side of the border.  Back when the American dollar was strong and the Canadian dollar was weak, he did very well.  Those strong American dollars exchanged into a whole lot more Canadian dollars.  Which allowed him to buy a whole lot more stuff than his fellow Canadians.  In fact, a lot of Americans vacationed in Canada back then.  Because the American dollar bought more in Canada than it did in America.

Have Cheap Cash, Will Travel – In Canada

So what’s the point talking about this cheap bastard?  Exchange rates.  And whenever there’s a currency war on the horizon, I can’t help but think about this cheap bastard.  See how he, a Canadian working in America, lived very well with a cheap Canadian dollar.  We paid him in strong U.S. dollars.  He then could use those strong U.S. dollars to buy gas and other ‘less taxed’ items on the U.S. side of the border.  (If he brought in and exchanged weak Canadian dollars for strong U.S. dollars, that same amount of gas would cost him more.)  And when he took those strong U.S. dollars across the border back into Canada, he exchanged them and got so many weak Canadian dollars in return that he alone stimulated the local economy.

Of course, he wasn’t the only one bringing strong American dollars into Canada.  When those strong dollars were exchanged for weak ones, the Canadian tourism industry boomed.  People could vacation in Canada for a week for what a weekend in America would cost.  Canadians traveling into America, on the other hand, paid more for less.  A weekend in America would cost what a week in Canada would cost.

In the above example, you can see how the nation with the weaker currency has more economic activity than the nation with the stronger currency.  Now, to understand international trade and foreign exchange rates, make the following substitutions in the above example:

  • Canada -> America
  • America -> China/Germany/Brazil/other U.S. trading partner

Alone Against the World.  And Alan Greenspan

Well, America is devaluing their currency.  They’re printing money to buy back treasury debt.  Supposedly to stimulate the economy by injecting more liquidity. But our problem is not a liquidity problem.  It’s a lack of consumer spending because of high unemployment.  And a fear of being unemployed soon.  So this will do little to solve our problems.  But it will make our exports cheaper.  And our trading partners’ imports more expensive.  In other words, we’re trying to fix our broken economy by flooding our trading partners’ economies with cheap American goods.  Which is pissing them off big time (see Reuters’ Analysis: German tempers fray as U.S. policy gulf widens by Stephen Brown and Andreas Rinke posted 11/10/2010).

Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, 68, said last week that the U.S. Federal Reserve decision to buy $600 billion of government bonds undermined U.S. credibility and was “clueless.” There was no point, he said, in pumping money into the markets.

China and Brazil were among those echoing his comments but U.S. officials were particularly stung by Schaeuble and German Economy Minister Rainer Bruederle saying the Fed move amounted to “indirect manipulation” of the dollar to boost exports; this at a time when Washington is criticizing China for exactly the same kind of strategy.

“It’s not acceptable for the Americans to criticize China for currency manipulation then slyly help the dollar by printing at the Federal Reserve,” Schaeuble told Der Spiegel magazine.

And speaking of Brazil, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said warned America not to rely on exports alone (see Brazil’s Lula Says World Headed For ‘Bankruptcy’ Unless Rich Nations Act posted 11/11/2010 on the Dow Jones Newswires).

“If they don’t consume, and they just bet on exports, the world will go into bankruptcy,” he told reporters as leaders at the Group of 20 industrial and developing nations headed into a two-day summit in the South Korean capital.

Even Alan Greenspan, former Federal Reserve Chairman, is expressing concern over the impact of American policy on foreign exchange rates (see Greenspan warns over weaker dollar by Alan Beattie in Seoul posted 11/10/2010 in the Financial Times).  In that same article, Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, warned that this currency manipulation could trigger a trade war that would make the next 12 months worse than the previous 12 months.

We’re All Cheap Bastards Now

When it comes down to it, I guess we’re all cheap bastards.  We all want some unfair advantage in life.  Like my one-time Canadian coworker.  And I can understand how our trading partners feel.  I’ve worked with and been lectured for years about how my country should change.  All the while he prospered quite handsomely from the way things were.  Of course, I can take some solace in the dollar’s slide.  It’s trading pretty much at parity with the Canadian dollar now.  It’s gotten so bad that I’ve heard my old friend has since found work on his side of the border.  Good for him.  Now he can truly embrace all those taxes that he spoke so highly about while he was avoiding them for all those years.

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