As China’s yuan takes the first steps toward becoming a global reserve currency, Japan offers a lesson on how hard it is to rival the dollar’s supremacy.
The Japanese yen’s share of global reserves reached a record 8.5 percent in 1991 as the nation’s post-War industrial boom made its economy the world’s second-largest. But its economic decline soon resulted in its clout shrinking as the euro gained ground and the greenback re-asserted its dominance. While the yen is still ranked third for trading and fourth for payments, it now accounts for just 4 percent of world reserves, compared with the dollar’s 64 percent and the yuan’s 1 percent.
“The main lesson is that it is impossible to have a major reserve currency like the dollar or euro unless you are willing to sustain a high degree of financial market openness over a very long period of time,” said Arthur Kroeber, the Beijing-based founding partner and managing director at Gavekal Dragonomics, a research firm.
Like the yuan, the yen’s march toward liberalization was gradual and marked with ambivalence. Under the Bretton Woods system after World War II, the Japanese currency was fixed at 360 a dollar, before a trading band was introduced in 1959 to make it slightly more flexible. For three decades, all capital flows except those explicitly permitted were banned, making it easier for the government to achieve policy goals.
It wasn’t until 1998 that approval or notification requirements for financial transactions and outward direct investments were abolished. The push to internationalize the yen initially came from the U.S., which wanted greater global use to fuel appreciation and reduce Japan’s trade surplus with America.
China’s situation now isn’t dissimilar. Having thrived on an economic model of closed borders and accumulation of reserves for decades, its capital account is still closed, individuals’ foreign-exchange conversions are capped and inter-country money flows occur mainly through specific programs. Policy makers have tightened controls on outflows in the past year after the yuan’s August 2015 devaluation exacerbated depreciation pressures. The currency was little changed Friday at 6.68 per dollar.
Full article: China Seeking to Succeed Where Japan Failed in Yuan Global Push (Bloomberg)