capital flows

Claire Jones

A familiar consequence of crises is a flight to quality. This crisis is no exception, with gold soaring to nominal highs and the Swiss franc appreciating against pretty much every other currency on the planet.

However, owing to two decades’ worth of financial globalisation, a trend more pronounced during this crisis than any other was that this shift to safe-haven assets was coupled with a flight of capital across borders. As European Central Bank research, out on Wednesday, notes, investors were not only risk averse, but also fearful of uncertainty. And this so-called “uncertainty aversion” fed home bias.

The capital flight threatened financial stability and hindered economic growth. So what to do? For the ECB, there are two things: better analysis and more regulation.  Read more

To discourage volatile short-term capital flows, the Bank of Indonesia will extend the minimum holding period of its bank certificates, SBIs, from one month to six months, effective May 13. This means traders holding the notes will not be able to sell them in the secondary market until they have held them for six months.

The unexpected news builds upon previous measures aimed at slowing down investment in very short-term debt. For example, the Bank of Indonesia has already all but stopped issuing 3- and 6-month SBIs. A key risk for countries receiving increased capital inflows is that they might reverse, which could have sudden and unpredictable consequences, as the Bank of Japan has pointed out. The Bank of Israel’s Stanley Fischer has made the same argumentRead more

Robin Harding

The arguments in the speech and research paper that Ben Bernanke presented in Paris today will be fairly familiar if you’ve come across the influential 2009 AER paper by Ricardo Caballero and Arvind Krishnamurthy (indeed Mr Bernanke cites it specifically).

The basic point is that large capital inflows into the US in 2003-2007 were mainly in search of safe assets: and the US financial system responded by manufacturing them in the form of AAA-rated CDOs and similar moneytraps. Read more

There are international rules to govern global trade, but none to oversee foreign exchange markets or capital movements, Israel’s central bank governor has observed.

Stanley Fischer said standards for capital movements were needed, even though it was not possible to govern how much central banks could intervene in markets. Reuters news wire reports: “It is important that the IMF is now trying to develop such rules, to figure out what works and what doesn’t work when the exchange rate starts to appreciate and … what measures they can take that are acceptable from the viewpoint of managing the international economy,” he told a conference. “Those are rules we have to develop just as we developed rules gradually in the years since the 1950s that produced a global trading system,” he added.

Many countries grappling with “hot money” blame the US openly and directly, but Professor Fischer did not join them. “I believe the US is doing what needs to be done for growth. Read more

Israeli foreign currency reserves rose to $73.4bn by the end of January as the country’s central bank bought foreign currency to dampen the shekel. The Bank bought $2.09bn and benefitted from an upward revaluation of its reserves by $628m, reports Bloomberg news wire.

Since the start of the year, the shekel weakened against the dollar, from 3.51421 to 3.712 per dollar, which explains the upward revision. Last time there was a net weakening in the currency over the month, it was followed by a net reserve reduction the month after (October-November last year). By that logic we could expect Israel’s foreign exchange purchases to fall during February. Read more

Israel’s foreign currency reserves stood at $70.9bn at the end of December, according to Bloomberg – but they may well be needed.

Central bank governor Stanley Fischer has warned that capital inflows could reverse sharply, leading the Bank to sell its reserves to try to slow any sudden weakening of the shekel. “One of the things that does concern us is that we have a lot of money coming in,” Mr Fischer told Bloomberg Radio in Davos. “If opinions change quickly money goes right back out and it could go out very fast.” Read more

Turkey’s central bank has just cut their benchmark rate 25 basis points, building upon moves last month that cut the same rate 50bp and raised reserve requirements. The two-pronged move was intended to weaken the lira, make exports more attractive and thus reduce the current account deficit – a blight on an otherwise booming economy.

The particular problem with Turkey’s bank reserves is their maturity profile, which is quite short-term, making the country vulnerable to external shocks. Rather than focusing on inflation and growth, a great deal of attention in Ankara must be focused on securing the next slice of funding. Encouraging longer-term maturities is a smart move; financial stability increases in proportion to the average maturity of deposits. Read more

*Updated 1509GMT

Interest rates will be a quarter of a point higher from tomorrow in Poland, after the MPC voted to increase them. The key refi rate will be 3.75 per cent. The move was expected, after bullish signals in December followed by strong hints from council members in the new year. Those comments suggested this would be the start of a rate normalisation policy, rather than a one-off reactive decision. All else equal, expect further rate rises ahead.

Headline inflation rose to 3.1 per cent in December, driven by higher energy prices. Initial estimates suggest core inflation rose, too. “The inflation rise,” said the Bank, “was accompanied by a rise in inflation expectations.”  This was given as the main reason for the rate rise in today’s news conference.

Governor Marek Belka has also said in recent months that he saw a decreased risk of strong capital inflows into Poland. Inflationary “hot money” inflows are encouraged by rate rises, which increase the return to investors. If those inflows are subsiding, Poland would be liberated to raise interest rates without fear of undue inflation.

Effective tomorrow, the 25bp rate rise will be the first Read more

Research from the Bank of Japan argues that we are seeing a multiplier effect in capital flows between emerging markets and the US, and its reversal could cause a very sudden upward correction in US government bond prices.

The argument runs along these lines: investors seeking high returns have caused large capital inflows into emerging markets, causing forex intervention and leaving governments with stockpiles of US dollars. Those dollars are then invested in US treasuries, reducing the yield and making it cheaper for US investors to borrow – and to seek high returns in emerging markets. Repeat.

While no direct mention is made of the Fed’s recent $600bn stimulus, Read more

Chile has held rates at 3.25 per cent, following its pledge to buy $12bn in the forex market to weaken the peso. Pundits had been split roughly equally between a rate hold and a small rate rise. The central bank has typically been raising rates regularly but by small increments of late (see chart, right).

Inflation in Chile is running at 3 per cent, exactly on target (which allows for one per cent either side of this) – but it is rising quickly. Chile recently pointed to the effect of the Fed’s $600bn stimulus programme on its currency – i.e. causing appreciation – and in doing so, joined a chorus of opposition from emerging markets trying to cope with an influx of “hot money”.

Officials from Taiwan’s central bank have rejected the implication of currency undervaluation in a chart used by Ben Bernanke. The offending graph – to the right – shows changes in the real effective exchange rate on its vertical (y) axis. Taiwan’s currency weakened by 2.8 per cent in real terms between September 2009 and 2010, according to this Fed chart. Taiwan says it fell by just 0.2 per cent, and argues that REER is not a good measure of undervaluation anyway.

At stake is responsibility for volatile capital flows that add to inflation in emerging markets and threaten to destabilise recovery. Emerging markets point to the Fed’s stimulus programme. But Mr Bernanke argued in his speech that the Fed’s $600bn stimulus programme was good for the world economy, refusing to accept responsibility for the extra inflationary pressure flowing through to emerging markets. In spite of former chair Alan Greenspan’s comments to the contrary, the Fed also continues to deny any attempt deliberately to weaken the dollar.

Indeed, Mr Bernanke accused emerging market economies of spending their reserves to slow the appreciation of their currencies. Hot money, he argued, was flowing into emerging markets regardless of Fed actions, because investors expected currencies they were buying to strengthen further. Since – by this chart – Taiwan’s currency has strengthened the least (indeed, has weakened), the implication is that Taiwan is one of the worst ‘offenders’. Read more

Former Fed chair Alan Greenspan has an article in today’s FT. It’s quite blunt about China and the US. “Both may be right about each other,” he says. “America is pursuing a policy of currency weakening,” while China’s reserve accumulation has caused exchange rate suppression for “competitive export advantage”. China and the US aren’t just hurting each other: the joint effect of their policies is to strengthen other currencies, placing those countries at a disadvantage.

Unlike most pundits hand-wringing over the current state of play, Mr Greenspan proposes a solution. It is quite radical. The G20, he says, can propose a new rule through the IMF that “limits the accumulation of reserve assets and sterilisation of capital flows”. “It would be easier to maintain and control than a stability and growth pact,” he says, referring to the “failed” eurozone agreement.

Well, yes, it would be easier. But the fact he has considered a stability and growth pact for sovereign states with separate currencies is staggering. The monetary proposal is also radical. Read more

Hot money? South Korea isn’t encouraging any more – the central bank on Thursday held its base rate at 2.25 per cent. The decision has surprised Reuters analysts who had expected a 25bp raise.

Bond prices have risen to record highs on the news and the won has also strengthened, though not as much as it would have done had interest rates risen. Read more

‘Unsustainable growth in credit’ has prompted the Peruvian central bank to raise its reserve requirements. Banks will need to hold funds equivalent to 75 per cent of borrowings abroad maturing in less than two years, up from 65 per cent, reports Bloomberg.

The economy shows some signs of overheating, with rising inflation and a strengthening currency that consistent recent forex interventions have slowed but not reversed (see chart; source). The Reserve bank has increased its reference rate steadily during 2010, the most recent rise taking the rate to 3 per cent.

China continues to divest its dollar holdings of US debt, latest data show. Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan all reduced their net holdings during June. Between them, at the peak they held $363bn in May 2009; as of June they hold less than half that amount, $170bn. Germany, France and the UK also divested during the month.

It’s a great time to sell for those with risk appetite. High demand has pushed yields to record lows (and prices, correspondingly, to highs) as widespread risk aversion makes US debt attractive to many. Read more

Growing concern amongst Asian central bank governors about capital inflows, which have seen a number of countries embrace once-dreaded capital controls, appears to be spreading to Latin America. Chile’s unflappable central bank governor, José De Gregorio, today expressed his concern about the growing number of foreign investors piling money into emerging markets. He says it is time to keep an eye on capital inflows.

According to El Mercurio newspaper, this is what he had to say at a seminar:

Capital flows are worrying me . . . This is not yet a problem in the Chilean economy, but we have to remain relatively alert and thinking about what implications this will have for monetary policy.

High copper prices, global stock market gains and the expectation that Chile’s central bank will continue to raise rates regularly have helped push the peso currency higher – it recently touched a five-month high. It has eased a little today against the dollar, trading around 513 to the greenback.

If De Gregorio is concerned, Bertrand Delgado, a senior analyst at Roubini Global Economics, says he has a few options to manage dollar liquidity. Read more

Growing risk aversion among investors is slowing foreign capital flows to emerging markets such as India, potentially choking inflows needed to fund the nation’s widening current account deficit, India’s central bank said.

Duvvuri Subbarao, the governor of the RBI, told the FT that the expectations of the world’s senior economic policymakers about the volume of capital inflows in emerging markets had dramatically changed over the past three months. “Even three months ago, we were talking about a possible flood of capital flows,” he said. Read more

Advanced economies' reserves

Advanced economie' reserves, by currency

Emerging economies reserves

Emerging economies' reserves, by currency

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Rates have been lowered another 50bp in Iceland, justified by a rising krona and lower risk premia. Since the last MPC meeting, the krona has risen 5 per cent against the euro, “slightly more than assumed” by the central bank in its last forecast. Unlike last time, inflation is currently falling.

The central bank has also been repurchasing 2011 and 2012 euro-denominated bonds – €160m and €32m, respectively. The move is an effort to reduce reliance on external funding. Bilateral credit lines with Denmark, Finland, Norway, Poland and Sweden totalling €639m are being used to supplement the bank’s foreign exchange reserves.

On the subject of reserves, the bank explained:

Over time, the Central Bank will have to replace borrowed reserves with non-borrowed reserves. The appreciating króna and lower external risk premia could allow modest regular purchases of foreign currency. The timing and quantity of such purchases will be conducted so as to minimise the effect on the króna. No decisions on such purchases will be taken before the August MPC meeting.

 Read more

Having strengthened yesterday, the renminbi has opened sharply down against the dollar – indeed by the largest weakening since December 2008.

Market talk suggests Chinese state-owned banks bought dollars to save the central bank from having to intervene. If the currency is seen as a one-way bet, ‘hot money’ will likely flow into China – potentially interrupting monetary policy transmission and causing inflation. Read more