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US facing massive economic ‘power shift’ with dollar’s downward spiral

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The dollar’s position as the world’s leading reserve currency faces increased pressure as the financial crisis allows emerging economies greater influence on the world stage, analysts said.

A report last week in The Independent claiming that China, Russia and Gulf States are among nations prepared to ditch the dollar for oil trades has heightened the uncertainty surrounding the US currency’s future.

The dollar slumped against rivals last week in the wake of the British daily’s controversial report.

“The US dollar is being hurt by the continued talk of a shift away from a dollar-centric world,” said Kit Juckes, an analyst at currency traders ECU Group.

“Three conclusions stand out very clearly. Firstly, the shift in economic power away from the G7 economies is continuing. “Secondly, there is a growing acceptance amongst those winners that one consequence of this power shift will be to strengthen their currencies.

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“And finally, as long as the US economy is not strong enough for any rise in interest rates to be conceivable for a long time, the dollar’s underlying downtrend will remain in place,” added Juckes.

The Independent, under the front-page headline “The Demise of the Dollar”, reported last Tuesday that Gulf states, together with China, Russia, Japan and France, were considering replacing the dollar as the currency for oil deals.

“In the most profound financial change in recent Middle East history, Gulf Arabs are planning — along with China, Russia, Japan and France — to end dollar dealings for oil,” wrote The Independent’s Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk.

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They would switch “to a basket of currencies including the Japanese yen and Chinese yuan, the euro, gold and a new, unified currency planned for nations in the Gulf Co-operation Council, including Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and Qatar,” added Fisk, citing Gulf Arab and Chinese banking sources.

The report was denied by a host of countries, including Kuwait, Qatar and Russia, while France dismissed it as “pure speculation.”

Even so, the United Nations itself last week called for a new global reserve currency to end dollar supremacy, which had allowed the United States the “privilege” of building up a huge trade deficit.

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UN undersecretary-general for economic and social affairs, Sha Zukang, said “important progress in managing imbalances can be made by reducing the (dollar) reserve currency country’s ‘privilege’ to run external deficits in order to provide international liquidity.”

Zukang was speaking at the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, whose President Robert Zoellick recently warned that the United States should not “take for granted” the dollar’s role as preeminent global reserve currency.

Meanwhile at a G20 summit in Pittsburgh last month, world leaders unveiled a new vision for economic governance, with bold plans to fix global imbalances and give more clout to emerging giants such as China and India.

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Following the summit, US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner repeated Washington’s commitment to a strong dollar.

But last week the finance chief was left to watch as traders used The Independent’s report as an opportunity to push lower the troubled US unit.

The report “has helped concentrate the minds of traders and investors alike, and has given them another excuse to take the dollar lower,” GFT Global Markets analyst David Morrison told AFP.

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“Despite what the Fed and other central bankers say, a weaker dollar is desirable because it is necessary to rebalance the global economy.

“As long as the decline is gentle and orderly, then they’re happy. But aggressive selling would spook the markets,” he added.

Commerzbank currency analyst Antje Praefcke agreed that the market’s reaction was significant because it showed that the dollar was on a downward trajectory.

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“The questionable article in the Independent was of course disclaimed,” Praefcke said.

“It is nonetheless an interesting study of the pscychological factors which are currently putting pressure on the dollar. Even if conspiracy theories turn out to be nonsense, the dollar is subsequently able to retrace only some of its losses.”


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New Zealand tightens gun laws again after mosque attack

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New Zealand announced plans for a national firearms register Monday in its second round of gun law reforms following the Christchurch mosque attacks which killed 51 Muslim worshippers.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said regulations around who could hold firearm licences would also be tightened to "stop weapons falling into the wrong hands".

Ardern said the March 15 killings, when a gunman opened fire at two Christchurch mosques as worshippers gathered for Friday prayers, had changed attitudes towards gun ownership in New Zealand.

"There is a new normal around firearms, it is a change of mindset," she told reporters.

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Mascots and javelin carriers: Tokyo adds robots to Olympic roster

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A roster of Olympic robots that will do everything from welcoming visitors to transporting javelins has been unveiled as Tokyo works to showcase Japanese technology at next year's Summer Games.

Japan hopes the 2020 Olympics will be a chance to put its tech sector back on the map after years in which the country's reputation as an industry leader has flagged.

Auto giant Toyota has a roster of five robots with different roles to play, from cutesy renditions of the Olympic mascots to a staid transport bot.

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Final hours of voting in race to become British PM

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The voting closes Monday in the contest to become Britain's next prime minister, with Boris Johnson expected to be confirmed as the winner charged with delivering Brexit.

After a month-long contest between former London mayor Johnson and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, the postal votes of up to 160,000 grassroots Conservatives will decide the governing party's next leader.

The voting window slams shut at 5:00pm (1600 GMT).

The result will be announced on Tuesday, with the winner immediately becoming the new Conservative leader, the victor taking office as prime minister on Wednesday.

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