Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Currencies and Current Account Adjustments Part II

I did a post about six months ago on an article in VoxEU (link) that evaluated exchange rate imbalances between the USD and Asian currencies, which suggested that the MYR was as much as 1/3 too low against the USD. I criticised the paper on both methodological and procedural grounds.

Now another article on VoxEU is also basically challenging the findings of that article (excerpts):

On the renminbi and economic convergence

“Many economists agree that the build-up and maintenance of international imbalances, with their accompanying capital flows, contributed to the overleveraging of finance and underpricing of risk. How to rebalance then? Many observers are increasingly emphasising that China should let its exchange rate appreciate.

For example, Cline and Williamson (2009) have recently estimated “fundamental equilibrium exchange rates” compatible with moderating external imbalances. They estimate that the required renminbi appreciation is more than 20% in real effective terms and 40% relative to the dollar. Ferguson and Schularick (2009) point to the manufacturing wage unit-costs to estimate the degree of undervaluation of the renminbi relative to the dollar and come up with the figure of 30% and 50%. Finally, the Bank of China’s continuous intervention in the foreign exchange market also suggests that the renminbi would appreciate significantly if let loose; this intervention has accumulated $2.3 trillion of foreign exchange reserves.

To be sure, poor-country currencies are normally undervalued in terms of purchasing power parity with rich countries. In fact, poorer countries do have undervalued exchange rates (due to the Balassa-Samuelson effect), and convergence will imply considerable correction of that undervaluation. Services (and wages) are cheap in poor countries and expensive in rich countries, while prices for internationally traded goods are roughly equalised in a common currency. When the productivity in traded goods rises (while productivity growth for haircuts and other services are very limited), more income is generated and spent on services. The price ratio of non-traded to traded goods will rise. In other words, the real exchange rate will appreciate. Hence, part of the undervaluation ascribed to China’s and other currencies results from market forces that make non-traded goods relatively cheap in poor countries, rather than from deliberate currency manipulation by China’s authorities.

While growing and converging fast, China is still poor. Its per capita income in 2008 was 6.2% of the US’s at market rates and 12.8% at PPP-adjusted rates, according to World Development Indicator data. Figure 1 relates the log of real per capita GDP as a fraction of the US level and the deviations of current market exchange rates per US dollar from PPP rates for the year 2008. It shows strong support for the Balassa-Samuelson effect and suggests a well-determined elasticity (0.2) by which the undervaluation of the currency will be eroded during the catch-up toward the US per capita income level. Real exchange rates can thus be expected to appreciate as economies grow, approaching PPP exchange rates as economies converge with US living standards, as posited by the Balassa-Samuelson effect.

Figure 1. Income convergence and exchange rates appreciation


To gauge a converging country’s degree of undervaluation, the appropriate yardstick cannot be purchasing power parity; it should rather be the regression (over 145 countries) that provides the best fit for the Balassa-Samuelson effect. While the renminbi was undervalued by 60% in PPP terms, it was merely undervalued by 12%, if the regression fitted value for China’s per capita income level is compared to the current value in 2008. Note that India and South Africa (which had a current account deficit) were more undervalued than China by that Balassa-Samuelson benchmark, by 16% and 20%, respectively, in 2008. The currencies of Brazil and Russia were appropriately valued, i.e. close to the regression line.”

My kind of guy! Have a read through - there's some interesting policy conclusions as well.

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