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March 25th 2009

Led by China, Central Banks Seek Alternative to Dollar

China is a hostage. China is America’s bank and America basically says there’s nothing you can do to me. If I go down you don’t get paid.”

While the Obama administration has pledged the kind of fiscal responsibility that would secure its government obligations, its actions haven’t been so responsible. The Fed recently announced purchases of $1 Trillion in government debt, while the government is set to rack up Trillion-Dollar deficits over the next decade, even by the most conservative estimates.

In other words, China is in a quandary; stop lending to the US, and you might see the value of your existing reserves plummet. Continue lending, and you risk the same result. Tired of participating in this apparent no-win situation, China is finally taking action.

First, it will petition the G20 at its upcoming meeting for some level of protection on its $1 Trillion+ “investment” in the US. Meanwhile, Zhou XiaoChuan, governor of the Central Bank of China, has authored a paper calling for a decline in the role that individual currencies play in international trade and finance. According to Mr. Zhou, “Most nations concentrate their assets in those reserve currencies [Dollar, Euro, Yen], which exaggerates the size of flows and makes financial systems overall more volatile.” His point is well-taken, since of the $4.5 Trillion in global foreign exchange reserves that can be identified, perhaps 85% are accounted for by Euros and Dollars alone. When crises occur, everyone flocks to these currencies.
Mr. Zhou’s proposal is not without precedent. “His idea is to expand the use of ‘special drawing rights,’ or SDRs — a kind of synthetic currency created by the IMF in the 1960s. Its value is determined by a basket of major currencies. Originally, the SDR was intended to serve as a shared currency for international reserves, though that aspect never really got off the ground.” It’s not clear exactly how such a system would work, but the idea is straightforward enough; instead of holding individual currencies, which are inherently volatile, Central Banks would be able to denominate reserves in a sort of universal currency. Instead of parking money in US Treasury securities, they would hold IMF bonds, or some equivalent.

Even before China starting becoming more vocal about its concerns, analysts had begun questioning the role of the US as reserve currency. I’m not just talking about the perennial pessimists. Within the context of the current credit crisis, a bubble may be forming in the market for Treasury bonds. “Foreign buying of American financial assets by both private investors and governments averaged $141 billion from September to December, Treasury data show…Demand was so strong that, for the first time, investors accepted rates below 0 percent on three-month Treasury bills to safeguard their capital.”

There is concern that a slight recovery in risk appetite (of which there is already evidence) could ignite a massive sell-off: “People are sitting there holding massive amounts of zero- yielding dollar assets. If there is any sort of good news, demand for dollars can drop off very, very quickly.”

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Central Banks, Politics & Policy, US Dollar | 2 Comments »

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2 Comments of “Led by China, Central Banks Seek Alternative to Dollar”

  1. Ron Says:

    America will need a new currency before Geithner and the politicians are finished expanding the debt and destroying the dollar but the solution is a gold backed currency free of government manipulation. The Campaign to Cancel the Washington National Debt by 12/21/2012 through constitutional amendment begins. See our facebook page at

    We are also planning to have a booth at FreedomFest 2009, the world’s largest gathering of free minds! July 9–11 in Las Vegas. Ron

  2. Greg Says:

    People need to take a very academic look and stop talking about a new world currency, the euro replacing the dollar, etc. No country on earth has a more stable political and business system, and nowhere near the leverage on OPEC and other key trading groups.

    The dollar will take a hit, but it is nowhere near “knocked out”!

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