Tag Archives: USA

US dollar under pressure as the reserve currency.

In doing most introductory courses in economics you will have come across the four functions of money which are:

  • Medium of exchange
  • Unit of Account
  • Store of Value
  • Means of deferred payment

Since the Bretton Woods Agreement in 1944 the US dollar was nominated as the world’s reserve currency and ranks highly compared to other currencies in the above functions. As a medium of exchange the US dollar is very prevalent:

  • 60% of the world’s currency reserves are in US dollars
  • 50% of cross-border interbank claims
  • After the GFC, purchases of the US dollar increased significantly – store of value.
  • Around 90% of forex trading involves the US dollar
  • Approximately 40% of the world’s debt is issued in dollars
  • n 2018 banks of Germany, France, and the UK held more liabilities in US dollars than in their own domestic currencies.

So why therefore is there pressure on the US dollar as the reserve currency?

The COVID-19 pandemic has closed borders and will inevitably lead to more regionalised trade, migration and money flows which suggests a greater use of local currencies. However China has made its intention clear that the Yuan should become a more universal currency. Some interesting facts:

  • Deposits in yuan = 1trn yuan = US$144bn
  • Yuan transactions have grown in Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and London.
  • Investment by Chinese firms into Belt and Road project = US$3.75bn which was in yuan
  • China settles 15% of its foreign trade in yuan
  • France settles 20% of its trade with China in yuan
  • 2018 – Shanghai sock market launched yuan-denominated oil futures.
  • The IMF suggest that the ‘yuan bloc’ accounts for 30% of Global GDP – the US$ = 40%

However if the past is anything to go by the US economy has gone through some very turbulent times but the US dollar has remained firm. This suggests that how we perceive the US economy doesn’t seem to relate to the value of its currency.

Source: The Economist – China wants to make the yuan a central-bank favourite
7th May 2020

US unemployment figures – Great Depression again?

The number of people applying for unemployment benefit in the US over the last four weeks is astonishing – 22 million which represents 13% of the labour force. Some economists are suggesting that it will go above 15% in the next couple of months as the lockdown continues to impact businesses.

“There’s nowhere to hide,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton in Chicago told the New York Times. “This is the deepest, fastest, most broad-based recession we’ve ever seen.”

Getting money quickly to people who need it is essential to limiting the economic damage and heading off a prolonged downturn, economists say. Relying on state unemployment offices, however — which had been set up and staffed to deal with record-low jobless rates — has resulted in mammoth delays. New York Times

The graph below represent these figures in a historical context. It would not be surprising if the rate went above that of the Great Depression – 25%. However these estimates would be dependent on a L U V or W recovery – see previous blog post. The graph below is from GZERO.

Janet Yellen on the economic crisis

With more that 6.6 million Americans filing for unemployment benefit this week this brings the total number of Americans who have lost their jobs in recent weeks to 17 million. Janet Yellen predicts that the unemployment rate will be greater than that during the Great Depression. However unlike the 1930’s the underlying economy is in much better shape and the current downturn is health driven.

Congress passed a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill at the end of March that extends unemployment benefits to more workers and provides loans for small businesses to keep their employees on payroll. Most Americans will receive a direct payment of $1,200 from the stimulus, as well. Lawmakers are pushing to pass another spending package to provide additional funding to small businesses, hospitals, and state and local governments, in particular. 

Below is the interview with Janet Yellen on today’s PBS News.

Covid-19 hits oil prices hard

With the demand for oil dropping over covid-19 and the over supply in the market, oil prices have collapsed. Brent crude fell by more than half in March to below $23 per barrel. For many years OPEC – Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries – has manipulated supply to maintain higher prices. Since 2017 both Saudi Arabia and Russia have been working together to prop up oil prices but have had a falling out over Saudi Arabia’s insistence on cutting oil supplies by 1.5 million barrels per day.

The Economist – 26th March 2020

Cost of extraction v Price of a barrel

Like any business you need to consider costs relative to the price of your good or service. Some shale oil wells in the US may have a break-even point of $40 a barrel despite the high fracking costs. However some sources say that it is above $60 a barrel with the higher-cost wells coming in at over $90 a barrel. These industries cannot survive in this environment of such low oil prices. Also the Canadian tar sands are another costly method of extracting oil and this could lead to a shut down of production.

By contrast in Saudi Arabia the extraction cost is around $9/barrel with Russia coming slightly higher at $15/barrel. The Middle East and North Africa are also very efficient, producing oil as cheaply as $20 per barrel. Worldwide, conventional oil production typically costs between $30 to $40 a barrel.

Nevertheless countries like Venezuela and Nigeria depend hugely on oil revenue for their spending. Although Russia and Saudi Arabia have significant foreign reserves the more the virus persists and demand keeps falling the greater the damage. Useful video from Al Jazeera below.

Least educated workers a symbol of recovering US economy

During the GFC the American workers who suffered the most were those without a high school diploma – their unemployment rate was 15.6% in the summer of 2009 more than three times the peak unemployment rate for college graduates – refers to cyclical unemployment. Furthermore this particular group of unemployed were also those that found it hardest to get back into employment. However by July this year the Labour Department recorded that the unemployment rate for those without a high school diploma fell to 5.1 percent in July this year. This is surprising considering that low-skilled workers, who makeup 7.2% fo the labour force, were seen as the least likely to recover from a recession

Cyclical unemployment (or demand deficient) occurs when there is not enough demand to employ all those who want to work. It is a type that Keynesian economists focus on particularly, as they believe it happens when there is a disequilibrium in the economy. It is also often known as cyclical unemployment because it will vary with the trade cycle. When the economy is booming, there will be lots of demand and so firms will be employing large numbers of workers. Demand-deficient unemployment will at this stage of the cycle be fairly low. If the economy slows down, then demand will begin to fall. When this happens firms will begin to lay workers off as they do not need to produce so much. Demand-deficient unemployment rises. The behaviour of demand-deficient unemployment will exactly mirror the trade cycle.

The increasing trade war between the USA and China seems to have done little to put a damper on hiring. The manufacturing sector, which is particularly sensitive to exports, was robust, adding 37,000 jobs.

Source: New York Times – 2nd August 2018

US and China trade war and what it means.

Doing trade barriers with my NCEA Level 2 class and below is a good clip from Al Jazeera about the issues that are arising from it and who will lose the least from a trade war. The last ten years saw a marked improvement in trade between the United States and China. But Trump’s battle of the tariffs is threatening that. And there are fears of an all-out trade war. The U.S. is putting tariffs on 50 billion dollars worth of Chinese imports. The president says he wants a fairer trade with China. But Beijing’s fired back with a tit-for-tat response. It’s published a list of more than 600 American products it plans to hit with its own taxes. Is it a case of who blinks first in this economic brinkmanship? And what will it mean for global trade? The comments by Philippe LeGrain are particularly good.

USA China trade war – who would win?

After a third round of trade talks between China and the US ended in stalemate a US$100bn trade war is on the horizon. America has published a list of 1,300 Chinese products which it proposes to hit with a 25% tariff. China has it own list covering 106 categories. As the Chinese embassy in Washington DC said “As the Chinese saying goes, it is only polite to reciprocate.” See graph below from The Economist.

US list covers Chinese products worth – $US$46bn in 2017 – 9% of exports to USA.
Chinese list covers US products worth – US$50bn in 2017 – 38% of exports to China

Historians of trade have an advantage over those who study wars of the military kind. Each side is a trade dispute lays out in detail the products to be affected. That makes it easier to analyse their strategies. Trump’s blunt attack targeting of a particular industry – steel and aluminium – is to supposedly make the industry in the US stronger. China retaliated by placing tariffs on US$0.2bn-worth of iron and steel tubes, pipes and hollow profiles, and US$1.2bn-worth of aluminium waste.

The US face a trade-off between protecting their own industries with import tariffs at the same time as increasing the cost of goods for its consumers. There is also the likelihood of causing disruptions to the US economy by increasing the cost of intermediate goods (aircraft parts, robots, semiconductors) which ultimately leads to higher prices.

Good long-run deal for China

It seems that China has the dominant position for the following reasons:

  • China can stop purchasing US aircraft
  • Impose an embargo on US soybean products
  • Dump US Treasury Bills and other securities
  • Chinese companies could reduce demand for US business services
  • The government could persuade firms not to buy US products

China is indirectly one of America’s biggest employers. China could look to buy all it commercial aircraft from European consortium Airbus rather than Boeing. That move alone wold cost 179,000 US jobs. China controls key components in global supply and production networks

Initially a trade war would mean job losses for both countries but in the long-run with China looking to develop a more domestic led consumption model the export market becomes less significant – Project Syndicate. See video below:

Source:                                                                                                                                                        The Economist – Blow for Blow – April 7th 2018

Looming US China trade war – What can China do?

China’s share of global trade has surged since the 1990’s with both exports and imports increasing significantly – see graph below. Exports have been on a steep rise since 2001 with only a slight plateau with the GFC in 2008-9.

On Friday Donald Trump signed an order to impose tariffs on as much as $60 billion worth of Chinese imports. Trump wants to punish Beijing what he said is “the theft of American technology and Chinese pressure on U.S. companies to hand it over.” This deficit is significant – largest deficit of any country (see graph) – and Trump is blaming the US China trade imbalance for the loss of jobs in the US. This is an area that Trump focused his attention on in his campaign and now he is trying to fulfill the rhetoric.

Source: National Australia Bank

China has already warned that it will take “all necessary measures” to defend itself, raising the prospect of a trade war between the world’s two biggest economies. China has a few retaliatory measures it could use:

Soyabeans – US or Brazil?
The United States exported more than 30 million tons of soybeans — worth more than $10 billion — to China last year, over 57 percent of total U.S. exports of the popular legume. The soybean industry is heavily subsidised by the US government and this allows them to dump their produce on the Chinese market below the Chinese market price. China could look to Brazil for soy.

Boeing or Airbus?
Boeing make over 50% of commercial aircraft operating in China. Last November they signed an agreement to sell 300 planes to China worth $37 billion. This order supports approximately 150,000 jobs. In future China could look to the European plane manufacturer Airbus.

Sorghum
Earlier this year Trump imposed the following on Chinese products:

  • 20% tariff on the first 1.2m imported large residential washers in the first year, and a 50% tariff on machines above that number.
  • 30% tariff will be imposed on imported solar panels

In retaliation China has launched an anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigation into imports of the grain from the US. China is the top buyer of US sorghum – US provided 4.76 million of CHina’s 5 million metric tonnes of sorghum imports – US1.1bn. China could retaliate after its investigation wraps up, expected next February.

Apple
China is a major market for the iPhone maker. Apple also depends on China’s workforce to make most of its products. As a result, China’s government has enormous leverage over the company and could, as it has in the past, target Apple for violating Chinese consumer rights.

General Motors
The Chinese market is imperative for GM – China has been the largest retailer for the last 6 years. 4 million cars were sold in China last year, up from 4.4% from the previous high a year earlier. Chinese automakers like Geely and BYD are competing for market share, though, and China could make it more difficult for both GM and Ford to operate on Chinese soil. In late 2016, China fined GM’s China joint venture $29 million for “price fixing,” or setting minimum prices for certain Cadillac, Chevy and Buick models.

Source: 5 Ways China May Try To Win A Trade War With The U.S.

Trump’s tax cuts likely to have limited impact on growth

Donald Trump has indicated that the US economy needs a big tax cut to stimulate some growth and aggregate demand –  C+I+G+(X-M). His rationale is that with consumers having greater income they will spend consume more (C) and businesses keeping more of their profits will invest more (I). He is even so confident that the tax cuts won’t put a dent in the overall tax revenue of the government. However economists are suggesting that the US economy is already growing as fast as it can and in order to improve its growth rate it needs to investment in productivity.

D Pull Inflation.jpegNevertheless, US tax cuts in the 1980’s under Ronald Reagan proved to be very effective in stimulating aggregate demand but the economic environment then was different to that of today. The 1980’s was an era of stagflation with the US experiencing 10% unemployment and inflation reaching 15%. Since the GFC in 2007 growth has been positive and unlike the 1980’s unemployment has been falling  – from 10% in Oct 2009 to 4.4% in April 20178. Tax cuts are all very well when you have high unemployment but with the rate falling to under 5% companies may find it difficult to respond to the greater demand for goods and services by taking on workers to increase supply. Tax cuts would then lead to an increase in inflationary pressure (see graph) which is turn would prompt the US Fed to increase interest rates.

ProductivityTrump’s plan would also increase the Federal deficit and borrowing from the government. This would put upward pressure on interest rates for the private sector which reduces the potential for further growth. As noted earlier the area that needs to be addressed is productivity, with a shift of the LRAS curve to the right – see graph.