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President Trump’s economic war against Germany and the euro

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] J [/yt_dropcap]ust a week after his official installation at the White House, Donald J. Trump lashed out at China, accused of manipulating its currency to “win the globalization game”, but also at Germany which, as the President of the new National Trade Council, Peter Navarro, said “is exploiting both its neighbours and the United States with the euro”.

The accusation is not new. In the early 1970s the United States accused the old European Monetary System (EMS) of keeping the currencies adhering to it artificially high.

Inter alia, the EMS – with fixed exchange rates but with predefined fluctuations within it – was the European response to the US-prompted end of the 1944 Bretton Woods agreement.

Nevertheless, it was also Europe’s reaction to the planned weakness of the dollar during Jimmy Carter’s Presidency, when precisely the dollar area sent huge capital flows into Germany, which had a “high” Mark, thus pressing it against the French Franc and hence destabilizing the entire European internal monetary exchange system.

Furthermore, in the early 1980s, the British Labour Prime Minister, Denis Healey, got convinced that the EMS was a real German “racket”, considering that the German Finance Minister had told him that his country planned to have a comparative advantage precisely by limiting the depreciation of the other European currencies.

This happened because Germany had lower labour cost-driven inflation rates and, hence, a currency with fixed rates would have anyway ensured export-driven surpluses only to Germany.

However also the G20 long negotiations have never led to any result: currently, in absolute terms, the German export-led surplus is much larger than China’s, namely 8.6% of the German GDP.

In fact, according to IMF estimates, the surplus is equal to 271 billion US dollars, a huge sum capable of changing all global trade flows.

Finally Chancellor Angela Merkel replied to Trump (and to Navarro) by recalling that the European Central Bank is the institution issuing the euro, but it is not lender of last resort. Nevertheless, she has not contradicted the US President about the fact that the Euro is really undervalued.

Furthermore, when we look at the currencies undervalued as against the US Dollar, we realize that the most undervalued currency is the Turkish Lira, followed by the Mexican Peso, the Polish Zloty, the Hungarian Forint, the South Korean Won and, finally, our own Euro.

Finally, when we look at the number and size of transactions denominated in euros, the European currency is already the second most traded currency in the world.

Hence, probably the undervaluation of the Euro against the US Dollar originates more from the expansionist policy of the European central Bank than from Germany’s actions for its exports and monetary parities.

Certainly Germany gains in having a currency that is much weaker than it would be if it were only a German currency but, on the other hand, with a Euro artfully devalued, the “weakest” Eurozone countries succeed in having lower interest rates than they could obtain with their old or new national currencies.

Moreover, it is worth recalling that Germany exports profitably both in countries where the currency is stronger than the Euro and in regions where the currency is even more depreciated as against the US Dollar, such as Japan.

According to last year’s data, the United States have a trade deficit with Germany equal to 60 billion US dollars.

Germany exports mainly cars, which account for 22% of their total exports to the United States.

It also exports – in decreasing order – machine tools, in direct competition with Italy, electronics, pharmaceuticals, medical technologies, plastics, aircraft and avionics, oil, iron and steel, as well as organic chemicals. All German exports are worth 35% of its GDP.

Why, however, is the Euro depreciated because of Germany?

Firstly, since 2000 the German cost of labour has grown by 20-30% less than in the Eurozone’s German competitors.

Hence German products were ipso facto 20% more competitive than those of the others, without any exchange rate manipulation.

If Germany still had had the Mark, it would have automatically appreciated by 20%.

The appreciation of this hypothetical Mark would have changed demand, by reducing exports and increasing imports by the same percentage.

In that case, the ideal would have been a floating exchange rate – and this should also be the case for a re-modulated Euro compared to the current situation.

A fluctuation prefiguring the creation of a new monetary “basket” with the major currencies, with exchange rates floating within a certain range, but much more realistic than the current ones.

A further cause of the current account surplus in Germany is the intrinsic strength of its exports – hence Germany does not suffer the competition of low-tech economies, such as Italy’s.

Another reason for the excessive German surplus is the low domestic demand, with the relative increase in private savings.

An additional cause of the surplus is the fact that savings have long been higher than investment.

In 2015, German savings amounted to 25% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), while investment was worth only 16% of the GDP.

Obviously, another decisive reason for the accumulation of such a large German surplus was the fall in oil prices.

Therefore, the vast German surplus and the Euro undervaluation foster its exports, but block the exports of the other Eurozone countries.

In fact, according to our calculations, if Germany stimulated its domestic demand, thus allowing its inflation to increase, this would be enough for the final stimulus of global demand and, above all, it would make the Eurozone economies under crisis get out of their predicament.

Hence the real problem of too high a Euro is not so much for the United States, which can devalue as against the Euro whenever they want and anyway have still their own autonomous monetary policy, but rather for the single currency countries in the Mediterranean, which are experiencing a downturn caused by too low domestic demand.

Could we also do as Germany? No, we could not.

It is not possible for anyone in the Eurozone to create an 8% surplus, such as Germany, and not all countries could benefit from a devalued exchange rate of the European currency.

As many politicians say, restructuring the production system to increase productivity means – in a nutshell – years of deflation and high unemployment, which create a negative multiplier effect.

We cannot afford so – the social and economic conditions have already reached the breaking point.

Hence, let us put our minds at rest, the ”two-speed Europe” will last generations and it would be better if this could also be reflected in the single currency.

Or better in a series of two-three currencies deriving from the Euro with pre-fixed exchange rates floating within a range.

Furthermore, Germany will certainly replace China as the “bad” currency manipulator and there will be increasing competition between it and the rest of Europe.

Therefore, the German export surplus actually leads to an unfair competitive advantage over the Eurozone countries and, in other respects, over the North American exports.

This is the sense of the struggle against the Euro waged by President Trump and his future Ambassador to the EU, Ted Malloch, who has stated that the Euro may “collapse” over the next eighteen months.

The Euro is certainly undervalued.

According to a study carried out by Deutsche Bank, the Euro is allegedly the most undervalued currency in the world, according to the criteria of the Fundamental Equilibrium Exchange Rates (FEER).

And the Euro is undervalued even if we look at its external value and the mass of transactions of the individual countries currently adopting it.

Hence, not only can Germany be accused of managing an improper comparative advantage over the dollar and the other major currencies but, according to the FEER data, the accusation holds true even for Italy and for the other single currency European countries.

With a view to solving the issue, some analysts – especially North Americans – think it should be Germany to leave the Euro.

On the one hand, Germany cannot revalue its currency (which is also a political problem – suffice to think of German savers) without the Euro appreciating also for the Eurozone weak economies, such Italy and Spain.

The World Bank believes that the German trade surplus is at least 5% too high and, hence, the German exchange rate is largely undervalued by at least 15%.

In fact, the differential between the German Euro and the Euro of the Eurozone weakest countries is 20%.

This means that, in terms of Purchasing Power Parity (PPP), the Italian or Greek Euro is worth 20% less than the German one.

The issue could be solved with an equivalent 20% Euro revaluation, combined with an expansionary fiscal policy.

However, this cannot be done as long as Germany is within the Euro. This means that Germany cannot revalue the exchange rate without doing the same in the other 17 countries that adopt the European single currency.

This would mean definitively destroying the Italian, Greek, Portuguese and Spanish economies.

Therefore, if Germany came out of the Euro, its new currency would appreciate as against the non-German Euro and the other countries would have a devalued currency, which could help them in exports.

There are two ways in which the German trade surplus creates deflation – and hence crisis – in the rest of the Eurozone.

Obviously the first is by pushing up the value of the European currency.

A strong euro weakens the demand for European exports, especially for the most price-sensitive goods of the Eurozone Mediterranean economies.

Moreover, the high value of the European currency reduces the price of imported goods, thus negatively reinforcing the price fall – another deflationary mechanism.

And the German inflation which, as everyone knows, is lower than in the other Eurozone countries, further weakens the peripheral economies.

Hence a landscape marked by low domestic demand and national markets’ production crisis.

However, in Navarro’s and in Trump’s minds, there is the implicit belief that trade imbalances can be solved in a context of free-floating currencies.

It is not always so and, however, fluctuations apply only when there are structural changes in trade systems – in principle all players envisage and operate, for sufficient time, with fixed or maybe slightly floating rates.

Therefore, reading between the lines, what both Trump and Navarro really tell us is that the very Euro membership is an act of monetary manipulation.

Hence, what is done?

The unity of the European economy is broken, with unpredictable effects and further global chaos, while the United States acquire exports that were previously denominated in euros.

Or the United States could impose quotas or specific tariffs for Germany, which is illegal in WTO terms but, above all, would expose the United States to a series of reprisals and retaliation by Germany and probably also by the rest of the Eurozone.

There is no way out: therefore, again reading between the lines, probably Trump is telling to the Eurozone weak economies that they should leave the single currency, which is only in Germany’s interest, and create new post-Euro currencies, which will be somehow pegged to the US Dollar.

Or Trump and Navarro could define a new relationship between Euro, Dollar, Yuan, Ruble, Yen and some other primary currencies on the markets and impose a predetermined fluctuation between them, but obviously the Euro would enter this new “Bretton Woods” by being valued in line with the markets and not being overvalued as today.

Europe, however, shall put back in line and tackle all trade and political issues with Trump’s America, which will make no concession to anyone and, most importantly, does no longer want to favour Europe militarily, strategically, financially and commercially.

In particular, Donald J. Trump has in mind the big game with Russia and China. He is scarcely interested in a continent, such as Europe, which is not capable of defending itself on its own and shows severe signs of structural crisis.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Rebalancing Act: China’s 2022 Outlook

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Authors: Ibrahim Chowdhury, Ekaterine T. Vashakmadze and Li Yusha

After a strong rebound last year, the world economy is entering a challenging 2022. The advanced economies have recovered rapidly thanks to big stimulus packages and rapid progress with vaccination, but many developing countries continue to struggle.

The spread of new variants amid large inequalities in vaccination rates, elevated food and commodity prices, volatile asset markets, the prospect of policy tightening in the United States and other advanced economies, and continued geopolitical tensions provide a challenging backdrop for developing countries, as the World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects report published today highlights.

The global context will also weigh on China’s outlook in 2022, by dampening export performance, a key growth driver last year. Following a strong 8 percent cyclical rebound in 2021, the World Bank expects growth in China to slow to 5.1 percent in 2022, closer to its potential — the sustainable growth rate of output at full capacity.

Indeed, growth in the second half of 2021 was below this level, and so our forecast assumes a modest amount of policy loosening. Although we expect momentum to pick up, our outlook is subject to domestic in addition to global downside risks. Renewed domestic COVID-19 outbreaks, including the new Omicron variant and other highly transmittable variants, could require more broad-based and longer-lasting restrictions, leading to larger disruptions in economic activity. A severe and prolonged downturn in the real estate sector could have significant economy-wide reverberations.

In the face of these headwinds, China’s policymakers should nonetheless keep a steady hand. Our latest China Economic Update argues that the old playbook of boosting domestic demand through investment-led stimulus will merely exacerbate risks in the real estate sector and reap increasingly lower returns as China’s stock of public infrastructure approaches its saturation point.

Instead, to achieve sustained growth, China needs to stick to the challenging path of rebalancing its economy along three dimensions: first, the shift from external demand to domestic demand and from investment and industry-led growth to greater reliance on consumption and services; second, a greater role for markets and the private sector in driving innovation and the allocation of capital and talent; and third, the transition from a high to a low-carbon economy.

None of these rebalancing acts are easy. However, as the China Economic Update points out, structural reforms could help reduce the trade-offs involved in transitioning to a new path of high-quality growth.

First, fiscal reforms could aim to create a more progressive tax system while boosting social safety nets and spending on health and education. This would help lower precautionary household savings and thereby support the rebalancing toward domestic consumption, while also reducing income inequality among households.

Second, following tightening anti-monopoly provisions aimed at digital platforms, and a range of restrictions imposed on online consumer services, the authorities could consider shifting their attention to remaining barriers to market competition more broadly to spur innovation and productivity growth.

A further opening-up of the protected services sector, for example, could improve access to high-quality services and support the rebalancing toward high-value service jobs (a special focus of the World Bank report). Eliminating remaining restrictions on labor mobility by abolishing the hukou, China’s system of household registration, for all urban areas would equally support the growth of vibrant service economies in China’s largest cities.

Third, the wider use of carbon pricing, for example, through an expansion of the scope and tightening of the emissions trading system rules, as well power sector reforms to encourage the penetration and nationwide trade and dispatch of renewables, would not only generate environmental benefits but also contribute to China’s economic transformation to a more sustainable and innovation-based growth model.

In addition, a more robust corporate and bank resolution framework would contribute to mitigating moral hazards, thereby reducing the trade-offs between monetary policy easing and financial risk management. Addressing distortions in the access to credit — reflected in persistent spreads between private and State borrowers — could support the shift to more innovation-driven, private sector-led growth.

Productivity growth in China during the past four decades of reform and opening-up has been private-sector led. The scope for future productivity gains through the diffusion of modern technologies and practices among smaller private companies remains large. Realizing these gains will require a level playing field with State-owned enterprises.

While the latter have played an instrumental role during the pandemic to stabilize employment, deliver key services and, in some cases, close local government budget gaps, their ability to drive the next phase of growth is questionable given lower profits and productivity growth rates in the past.

In 2022, the authorities will face a significantly more challenging policy environment. They will need to remain vigilant and ready to recalibrate financial and monetary policies to ensure the difficulties in the real estate sector don’t spill over into broader economic distress. Recent policy loosening suggests the policymakers are well aware of these risks.

However, in aiming to keep growth on a steady path close to potential, they will need to be similarly alert to the risk of accumulating ever greater levels of corporate and local government debt. The transition to high-quality growth will require economic rebalancing toward consumption, services, and green investments. If the past is any guide to the future, the reliance on markets and private sector initiative is China’s best bet to achieve the required structural change swiftly and at minimum cost.

First published on China Daily, via World Bank

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The US Economic Uncertainty: Bitcoin Faces a Test of Resilience?

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Is inflation harmful? Is inflation here to stay? And are people really at a loss? These and countless other questions along the same lines dominated the first half of 2021. Many looked for alternative investments in the national bourse, while others adopted unorthodox streams. Yes, I’m talking about bitcoin. The crypto giant hit records after records since the pandemic made us question the fundamentals of our conventional economic policies. And while inflation was never far behind in registering its own mark in history, the volatility in the crypto stream was hard to deny: swiping billions of dollars in mere days in April 2021. The surge came again, however. And it will keep on coming; I have no doubt. But whether it is the end of the pandemic or the early hues of a new shade, the tumultuous relationship between traditional economic metrics and the championed cryptocurrency is about to get more interesting.

The job market is at the most confusing crossroads in recent times. The hiring rate in the US has slowed down in the past two months, with employers adding only 199,000 jobs in December. The numbers reveal that this is the second month of depressing job additions compared to an average of more than 500,000 jobs added each month throughout 2021. More concerning is that economists had predicted an estimated 400,000 jobs additions last month. Nonetheless, according to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics, the unemployment rate has ticked down to 3.9% – the first time since the pre-pandemic level of 3.5% reported in February 2020. Analytically speaking, US employment has returned to pre-pandemic levels, yet businesses are still looking for more employees. The leverage, therefore, lies with the labor: reportedly (on average) every two employees have three positions available.

The ‘Great Resignation,’ a coinage for the new phenomenon, underscores this unique leverage of job selection. Sectors with low-wage positions like retail and hospitality face a labor shortage as people are better-positioned to bargain for higher wages. Thus, while wages are rising, quitting rates are record high simultaneously. According to recent job reports, an estimated 4.5 million workers quit their jobs in November alone. Given that this data got collected before the surge of the Omicron variant, the picture is about to worsen.

While wages are rising, employment is no longer in the dumps. People are quitting but not to invest stimulus cheques. Instead, they are resigning to negotiate better-paying jobs: forcing the businesses to hike prices and fueling inflation. Thus, despite high earnings, the budget for consumption [represented by the Consumer Price Index (CPI)] is rising at a rate of 6.8% (reported in November 2021). Naturally, bitcoin investment is not likely to bloom at levels rivaling the last two years. However, a downfall is imminent if inflation persists.

The US Federal Reserve sweats caution about searing gains in prices and soaring wage figures. And it appears that the fed is weighing its options to wind up its asset purchase program and hike interest rates. In March 2020, the fed started buying $40 billion worth of Mortgage-backed securities and $80 billion worth of government bonds (T-bills). However, a 19% increase in average house prices and a four-decade-high level of inflation is more than they bargained. Thus, the fed officials have been rooting for an expedited normalization of the monetary policy: further bolstered by the job reports indicating falling unemployment and rising wages. In recent months, the fed purview has dramatically shifted from its dovish sentiments: expecting no rate hike till 2023 to taper talks alongside three rate hikes in 2022.

Bitcoin now faces a volatile passage in the forthcoming months. While the disappointing job data and Omicron concerns could nudge the ball in its favor, the chances are that a depressive phase is yet to ensue. According to crypto-analysts, the bitcoin is technically oversold i.e. mostly devoid of impulsive investors and dominated by long-term holders. Since November, the bitcoin has dropped from the record high of $69,000 by almost 40%: moving in the $40,000-$41,000 range. Analysts believe that since bitcoin acts as a proxy for liquidity, any liquidity shortage could push the market into a mass sellout. Mr. Alex Krüger, the founder of Aike Capital, a New York-based asset management firm, stated: “Crypto assets are at the furthest end of the risk curve.” He further added: “[Therefore] since they had benefited from the Fed’s “extraordinarily lax monetary policy,” it should suffice to say that they would [also] suffer as an “unexpectedly tighter” policy shifts money into safer asset classes.” In simpler terms, a loose monetary policy and a deluge of stimulus payments cushioned the meteoric rise in bitcoin valuation as a hedge against inflation. That mechanism would also plummet the market with a sudden hawkish shift.

The situation is dire for most industries. Job participation levels are still low as workers are on the sidelines either because of the Omicron concern or lack of child support. In case of a rate hike, businesses would be forced to push against the wages to accommodate affordability in consumer prices. For bitcoin, the investment would stay dormant. However, any inflationary surprises could bring about an early tightening of the policy: spelling doom for the crypto market. The market now expects the job data to worsen while inflation to rise at 7.1% through December in the US inflation data (to be reported on Wednesday). Any higher than the forecasted figure alongside uncertainty imbued by the new variant could spark a downward spiral in bitcoin – probably pushing the asset below the $25000 mark.

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Platform Modernisation: What the US Treasury Sanctions Review Is All About

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Image source: home.treasury.gov

The US Treasury has released an overview of its sanctions policy. It outlines key principles for making the restrictive US measures more effective. The revision of the sanctions policy was announced at the beginning of Joe Biden’s presidential term. The new review can be considered one of the results of this work. At the same time, it is difficult to find signs of qualitative changes in the US administration’s approach to sanctions in the document. Rather, it is about upgrading an existing platform.

Sanctions are understood as economic and financial restrictions that make it possible to harm the enemies of the United States, prevent or hinder their actions, and send them a clear political signal. The text reproduces the usual “behavioural” understanding of sanctions. They are viewed as a means of influencing the behaviour of foreign players whose actions threaten the security or contradict the national interests of the United States. The review also defines the institutional structure of the sanctions policy. According to the document, it includes the Treasury, the State Department, and the National Security Council. The Treasury plays the role of the leading executor of the sanctions policy, and the State Department and the NSS determine the political direction of their application, despite the fact that the State Department itself is also responsible for the implementation of a number of sanctions programmes. This line also includes the Department of Justice, which uses coercive measures against violators of the US sanctions regime.

Interestingly, the Department of Commerce is not mentioned among the institutions. The review focuses only on a specific segment of the sanctions policy that is implemented by the Treasury. However, it is the Treasury that is currently at the forefront of the application of restrictive measures. A significant part of the executive orders of the President of the United States and sanctions laws imply blocking financial sanctions in the form of an asset freeze and a ban on transactions with individuals and organisations. Decrees and laws assign the application of such measures to the Treasury in cooperation with the Department of State and the Attorney General. Therefore, the institutional link mentioned in the review reflects the spirit and letter of a significant array of US regulations concerning sanctions. The Department of Commerce and its Bureau of Industry and Security are responsible for a different segment of the sanctions policy, which does not diminish its importance. Export controls can cause a lot of trouble for individual countries and companies.

Another notable part of the review concerns possible obstacles to the effective implementation of US sanctions. These include, among other things, the efforts of the opponents of the United States to change the global financial architecture, reducing the share of the dollar in the national settlements of both opponents and some allies of the United States.

Indeed, such major powers as Russia and China have seriously considered the risks of being involved in a global American-centric financial system.

The course towards the sovereignty of national financial systems and settlements with foreign countries is largely justified by the risk of sanctions.

Russia, for example, is vigorously pursuing the development of a National Payment System, as well as a Financial Messaging System. There has been a cautious but consistent policy of reducing the share of the dollar in external settlements. China, which has much greater economic potential, is building systems of “internal and external circulation”. Even the European Union has embarked on an increase in the role of the euro, taking into account the risk of secondary sanctions from “third countries”, which are often understood between the lines as the United States.

Digital currencies and new payment technologies also pose a threat to the effectiveness of sanctions. Moreover, here the players can be both large powers and many other states and non-state structures. It is interesting that digital currencies at a certain stage may present a common challenge to the United States, Russia, China, the EU and a number of other countries. After all, they can be used not only to circumvent sanctions, but also, for example, to finance terrorism or in money laundering. However, the review does not mention such common interests.

The text does propose measures to modernise the sanctions policy. The first one is to build sanctions into the broader context of US foreign policy. Sanctions are not important in and of themselves, but as part of a broader palette of policy instruments. The second measure is to strengthen interdepartmental coordination in the application of sanctions in parallel with increased coordination of US sanctions with the actions of American allies. The third measure is a more accurate calibration of sanctions in order to avoid humanitarian damage, as well as damage to American business. The fourth measure is to improve the enforceability and clarity of the sanctions policy. Here we can talk about both the legal uncertainty of some decrees and laws, and about an adequate understanding of the sanctions programmes on the part of business. Finally, fifth is the improvement and development of the Treasury-based sanctions apparatus, including investments in technology, staff training and infrastructure.

All these measures can hardly be called new. Experts have long recommended the use of sanctions in combination with other instruments, as well as improved inter-agency coordination. The coordination of sanctions with allies has escalated due to a number of unilateral steps taken by the Trump Administration, including withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal or sanctions against Nord Stream 2. However, the very importance of such coordination has not been questioned in the past and has even been reflected in American legislation (Iran). The need for a clearer understanding of sanctions policy has also been long overdue. Its relevance is illustrated, among other things, by the large number of unintentional violations of the US sanctions regime by American and foreign businesses. The problem of overcompliance is also relevant, when companies refuse transactions even when they are allowed. The reason is the fear of possible coercive measures by the US authorities. Finally, improving the sanctioning apparatus is also a long-standing topic. In particular, expanding the resources of the Administration in the application of sanctions was recommended by the US Audit Office in a 2019 report.

The US Treasury review suggests that no signs of an easing are foreseen for the key targets of US sanctions. At the same time, American business and its many foreign counterparties can benefit from the modernisation of the US sanctions policy. Legal certainty can reduce excess compliance as well as help avoid associated losses.

From our partner RIAC

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