Officials in the U.S. and Europe concerned about the euro’s decline are cautiously talking about a policy tool they haven’t used in a decade: intervening in currency markets.

Policy makers have been content to let markets set the value of the euro, which has fallen about 17% since early December, worrying U.S. exporters who face European competition and raising fear of inflation in Germany. Expectations of the prospects of intervention pushed up the euro to near $1.26, after the currency had slipped below $1.23 earlier. Late in the day, the euro traded at around $1.25.

Marco Annunziata, chief economist at UniCredit in London, figures the euro would have to fall to about $1.10 in a week or so to prompt policy makers to act. Such a fall could shake markets globally, boost interest rates in Europe, and threaten to undermine a global recovery.

In a currency intervention, central banks buy large amounts of a weak currency in exchange for a strong currency, in hopes of reversing the weak currency’s decline. But interventions often fail.

Neither the U.S. nor the euro zone has intervened in currency markets since 2000 — and both have long been skeptical about the practice’s effectiveness. The U.S. joined Europe, Japan, Britain and Canada in buying $3 billion to $5 billion of euros in September 2000 during a bout of euro weakness shortly after its introduction. Two months later, the European Central Bank bought more euros, when the euro was trading at about 87 cents — slightly less than half the high of about $1.60 it hit in April 2008.

‘I’m really concerned about the rapid [pace] of the fall of the exchange rate,’ said Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of euro-zone finance ministers, on Thursday, though he said he didn’t think euro’s level required ‘immediate action.’
Ted Truman, a former international economics official in the Clinton and Obama Treasury departments, said that ‘it’s right for authorities to be thinking about possibly protesting’ the fall in the euro via intervention.

Though the U.S. and Europe have spent extraordinary sums to fight the global recession, and drastically eased monetary policy, they have left currency markets alone, figuring that the ups and downs of currencies should reflect fundamental economics.

Federal Reserve Board Gov. Daniel Tarullo suggested the Fed wasn’t pressing for an intervention. ‘We don’t have other action under consideration’ beyond the dollar swap lines to European banks that the Fed revived earlier this month, he said at a congressional hearing Thursday. Problems in Europe could become ‘another source of risk to the U.S. recovery,’ he testified.

Many economists believe the euro is trading at an appropriate level, given Europe’s troubled budget picture and diminished growth prospects. The 110 billion ($136 billion) Greek loan package, followed by a nearly $1 trillion loan commitment for other troubled European countries, underscored the region’s financial frailty and raised the possibility that the ECB could print money and devalue the currency. European wrangling over how tightly to regulate financial markets has also put downward pressure on the euro.

Some European officials say they believe a gradual fall in the euro is an economic plus because it will make European exports less expensive.

A decision to act can take many forms, with the simplest being statements by influential officials warning, in coded language, that they may intervene. In June 2008, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke warned about the perils of a weak dollar. That gave the U.S. currency a brief lift, but the Fed never actually intervened. A sustained turnaround didn’t occur until more than a month later, when investors started flocking into the currency in search of havens.

Another possibility is a coordinated statement by a group of influential countries, as occurred in September 2000.

The goal of such statements is to produce the desired outcome without taking the chance on an actual intervention that could backfire. One risk of acting: Investors might believe policy makers have misdiagnosed why currencies are rising and falling or don’t have the will to deal with an underlying problem. That, in turn, could lead to even-more-jarring market moves.

A big wild card is the role of China, with its $2.5 trillion in reserves. The Chinese have long said they want to diversify their funds, which are heavily weighted to the dollar, by increasing the share of euros.

Analysts say there is a chance that China could be persuaded to participate in a globally coordinated effort to prop up the euro if other nations can convince Beijing the move is in its interests.

Harvard University economist Jeffrey Frankel said Chinese participation would give a powerful boost to any action. ‘If you intervened now [without China], markets would probably call the bluff and governments would lose,’ he said. ‘If we had the Chinese on our side, that $2.5 trillion in reserves could be intimidating, even to markets.’

But it is unlikely Beijing would join in. China Investment Corp., China’s $300 billion sovereign-wealth fund, didn’t buy Greek bonds earlier this year, which would have helped to ease the country’s problems. Jesse Wang, CIC’s executive vice president, said responsibility for a bailout lay with the European Union.

Bob Davis / Brian Blackstone / Dinny McMahon

欧美考虑干预欧元 成败系于中国?

担心欧元下滑的欧美官员正在谨慎地谈论一项他们已有十年未动用的政策工具:干预汇市。

决策者们一直安于让市场决定欧元的价值,自去年12月初以来欧元已下挫约17%,这种情形令面临欧洲竞争的美国出口商忧心不已,并加剧了德国的通胀担忧。对干预前景的预期推动欧元汇率上升至接近1.26美元,此前欧元曾下滑至不足1.23美元。周四尾盘1欧元兑1.25美元。

联合信贷(UniCredit)驻伦敦首席经济学家阿隆齐奥塔(Marco Annunziata)认为,欧元要在一周内跌至1.10美元左右的水平才会促使决策者采取行动。如此跌幅会令全球市场震动,导致欧元利率上升,并威胁全球经济复苏。

在汇市干预行动中,央行会以强势货币买入大量弱势货币,以图扭转弱势货币的下挫势头。但干预常常以失败告终。

2000年以来,欧美都没有干预过汇市,也都一直怀疑干预行动能否奏效。欧元推出后不久即呈疲软走势,2000年9月,美国与欧洲、日本、英国及加拿大一道,买进了规模30亿-50亿美元的欧元。两个月后,欧洲央行买进了更多欧元,当时欧元汇率仅为0.87美元──比2008年8月创下的1.60美元高点的一半水平略高。

欧元区财长会议主席容克(Jean-Claude Juncker)周四说,他真的很担心欧元汇率的快速下挫,不过他表示并不认为欧元的水平需要立即采取行动。

曾在克林顿和奥巴马政府的财政部任国际经济官员的杜鲁门(Ted Truman)说,相关当局理应考虑通过干预阻止欧元下滑。

虽然美国和欧洲都斥巨资力抗全球衰退,并极大地放宽了货币政策,但都没有干预汇市,认为汇率的涨跌应当反映经济基本面。

美国联邦储备委员会(Fed) 理事塔鲁洛(Daniel Tarullo)暗示,美联储并未迫切要求进行干预。他周四在国会听证会上说,除本月早些时候针对欧洲各银行推出的美元互换额度外,美联储当前并未考虑其他举措。塔鲁洛在作证时说,欧洲的问题可能成为危及美国复苏的又一个风险源头。

很多经济学家认为,鉴于欧洲困顿的预算状况和渺茫的增长前景,目前欧元处于合理的交易水平。规模1,100亿欧元(合1,360亿美元)的希腊贷款计划,接着是向其他陷入困境的欧洲国家作出近1万亿美元的贷款承诺,都凸显出该地区的金融脆弱,增大了欧洲央行大印钞票、贬值欧元的可能。欧洲在金融市场监管力度这个问题上争论不休,这也给欧元带来了下行压力。

一些欧洲官员说,他们认为欧元的逐步贬值对经济有好处,因为这将使欧洲出口商品变得更加便宜。

表露行动决定可能有很多种方式,最简单的是由颇具影响力的官员暗示他们可能会进行干预。2008年6月,美联储(Federal Reserve)主席贝南克(Ben Bernanke)就美元走软的危险发出了警告。之后美元短暂走高,不过美联储实际上从来没有进行干预过。一个月之后,投资者开始涌入美元寻求避风港,直到那时才出现了一场可持续的反弹。

另外一种可能是,多个有影响力的国家联合发表声明,就像2000年9月时一样。

这类声明的目的是,在不必冒险进行实际干预、不引发意外后果的情况下,产生希望的结果。干预的风险之一是:投资者可能认为决策人士误判了货币走强或走软的原因,或是不愿意应对根本问题。这进而可能引发更令人不安的市场走势。

一大不确定因素是,拥有2.5万亿美元外汇储备的中国将在其中扮演何种角色。中国一直说,他们希望通过增大欧元的份额将投资分散化。中国的外汇储备严重偏向于美元。

分析人士说,如果其他国家能够让北京相信提振欧元对中国有利,那么中国有可能参与提振欧元的全球联合行动。

哈佛大学经济学家佛兰克尔(Jeffrey Frankel)说,中国的参与将给任何行动带来强劲的助推。他说,假如现在你在没有中国参与的情况下进行了干预,市场可能会认为你这是在骗他们,政府可能会失败。假如有中国站在我们这一边,中国2.5万亿美元的外汇储备就可能具有威慑力,甚至对市场也一样。

不过,北京方面不太可能会加入。拥有3,000亿美元资产的主权财富基金中投公司今年早些时候没有买希腊债券。如果中国当时买了的话,将有助于缓解希腊的问题。中投公司副总经理汪建熙当时说,救助的责任在欧盟身上。

Advertisements