AS Level Revision – Floating Exchange Rates

Being doing a Cambridge revision course this week and this is an area that I covered today. Below is a useful graphic explaining how the demand for exports impacts the currency of the importer and exporter – US$ and Euro.

In theory, an advantage of a floating exchange rate is that it will automatically correct any tendency for the balance of payments to move into surplus or deficit.The following sequence of events shows how this automatic correction is supposed to work.

• Assume the NZ balance of payments is initially in equilibrium.
• Assume now that export values remain unchanged, but an increased demand for $ tends to move the NZ B of P into a deficit.
• This increased demand for imports will increase the supply of dollars in the foreign exchange market.
• The external value of the dollar will fall and this will make exports cheaper and imports dearer.
• The changes in the relative prices of exports and imports will increase the volume of exports and reduce the volume of imports and the B of P will be brought back into equilibrium.

In practice it may not work out like this because the supplies of exports and imports may be slow to adjust to the price changes. For example, if the prices of exports fall, it may take considerable time before the increased quantities demanded can be supplied. There are also problems associated with the elasticities of demand for exports and imports. A 10% fall in the prices of exports will not increase the amount of foreign currency earned unless the quantities demanded increase by more than 10%. A further problem is that a depreciation of the pound increases import prices and, since New Zealand imports a large amount of raw materials and manufactures, this has the effect of raising the cost of living and the costs of production in many industries.

A disadvantage of the system of floating exchange rates is the fact that greatly increases the risks and uncertainties in international trade.

For example, an Auckland manufacturer of cotton cloth may be quoted a firm US$ price by his American supplier, payment due, say, in 3 months. He will still not be certain of the costs of his cotton because he does not know what the US$-NZ$ exchange rate will be when he comes to make payment.

If he is quoted US$500 for a bale of cotton and the exchange rate stands at:
NZ$1 = US$0.56, a bale of cotton will cost him NZ$892.86.

If, however, by the time he comes to make payment, the exchange rate has moved to:
NZ$1 = US$0.53, a bale of cotton will cost him NZ$943.40.

Speculators remove some of this uncertainty by operating a forward exchange market where they guarantee to supply foreign currency at some future date at a price agreed now. A perfectly free market in foreign currency is not likely to be found in the real world. Even when currencies are said to be floating, governments tend to intervene in the market to smooth out undesirable fluctuations. The central bank (Reserve Bank in NZ) is responsible for this type of intervention and the way it operates is explained in the next section.

Advantages of a Strong Dollar

• A high NZ$ leads to lower import prices – this boosts the real living standards of consumers at least in the short run – for example an increase in the real purchasing power of NZ residents when traveling overseas
• When the NZ$ is strong, it is cheaper to import raw materials, components and capital inputs – good news for businesses that rely on imported components or who are wishing to increase their investment of new technology from overseas countries. A fall in import prices has the effect of causing an outward shift in the short run aggregate supply curve
• A strong exchange rate helps to control inflation because domestic producers face stiffer international competition from cheaper imports and will look to cut their costs accordingly. Cheaper prices of imported foodstuffs and beverages will also have a negative effect on the rate of consumer price inflation.

Disadvantages of a Strong Dollar

• Cheaper imports leads to rising import penetration and a larger trade deficit e.g. the increasing deficit in goods in the NZ balance of payments in 2011
• Exporters lose price competitiveness and market share – this can damage profits and employment in some sectors. Manufacturing industry suffered a steep recession in 2011 partly because of the continued strength of the NZ$, leading to many job losses and a sharp contraction in real capital investment spending and the lowest profit margins in manufacturing industry for over a decade
• If exports fall, this has a negative impact on economic growth. Some regions of the economy are affected by this more than others. The rural areas are affected by a strong dollar in that our produce becomes more expensive to overseas buyers.

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