Earth shattering monetary stimulus from the
Bank of Japan
, a threat to the safety of European deposits (courtesy of the Cyprus bailout), weeks of fretting over U.S. spending cuts - 2013 has given financial market participants an awful lot to digest so far.
This probably explains why perhaps the most significant story of them all seems to have passed most people by - China, and the increasing role its currency is having in the world.
Few would dispute China's end goal of having its currency, the yuan, become a genuine world reserve currency. Who wouldn't want cheap access to world capital markets that reserve currency status brings? Not to mention cheaper transaction costs on international trade.
Indeed most spectators also understand China's political motives in achieving reserve currency status for the yuan (more voting rights at IMF, World Bank etc). However, what does seem to be lost on the financial world right now is how quickly they are getting there.
Before we assess the steps China is taking to achieve this end, let's get reacquainted with the world of foreign currency reserves.
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According to IMF data there is currently approximately $11 trillion of foreign exchange reserves sitting in the coffers of the world's central banks. $6 trillion of this is referred to as "allocated reserves" where the currency composition is known. Most of the remaining $4-5 trillion "unallocated reserves" are owned by China who choose not to divulge the currency composition of their foreign loot.
We know roughly 62 percent of "allocated reserves" are held in U.S. dollars, 23 percent in euros, 4 percent in yen, 4 percent in sterling with the Swiss franc, the Aussie and Canadian dollars making up the tiny remaining balance.
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The most striking aspect of these allocations is how uncorrelated they are to one distribution of international trade and two to distribution of world gross domestic product (GDP).
Most recent International trade data show the largest volume of trade of goods are distributed as follows - European Union 12.3 percent, U.S. 11.3 percent, China 11.3 percent, Japan 5 percent, U.K. 3.3 percent and South Korea 3.3 percent
As regards with world GDP, the order of distribution is not un-similar - E.U. 23 percent, U.S. 21 percent, China 10 percent, Japan 8 percent and U.K. 3.3 percent.
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Those reserve allocations just don't seem right do they?
Of course this issue is far from new - long have central bankers, politicians and economists mooted a fairer and more representative reserve currency system, with SDR (the IMF's Special Drawing Rights) often mentioned.
Well now it seems China's time has come.
Growth in global foreign currency reserves has exploded - the $11 trillion in central bank coffers today is over three times what it was 10 years ago. The dawn of monetary debasement via the printing press has rocked confidence in all the major currencies. Even gold no longer cuts it. The world is crying out for a new store of value - and the Chinese know it.
The Chinese yuan is not freely traded on the open market and its capital markets are far from fully open - so how is the yuan getting into the hands of those desperate to diversify reserves into this currency which offers fundamentally better value?