There are several indications that the currency war is heating up, the gloves are coming off and new players are piling into the barroom brawl. First, Australia unexpectedly cut interest rates, then both the Swedish and New Zealand central bank governors were making their moves. Way down under, New Zealand’s central bank last week acknowledging that it had intervened in foreign exchange markets to try to fight any further appreciation of the country’s currency, known as the kiwi. The New Zealanders are worried about a runaway property market driven by global money rushing into the country.
Wait a minute... that’s exactly the same scenario in Israel.
This week the Bank of Israel stepped up its efforts to curb the appreciation of the shekel, surprising the markets by unexpectedly cutting its interest rate and announcing a program to purchase foreign currency. A weaker currency boosts exports, driven by cheaper prices. The smaller economies are reacting to all the quantitative easing by the world’s large economies.
Israel’s central bank, headed by Stanley Fischer, one of the most accomplished central bankers in the world, cut the key interest rate by a quarter of a percentage point to 1.5% to a three-year low.
Fischer told Bloomberg that the move came “in light of the continued appreciation of the shekel, taking into account the start of natural gas production from the Tamar gas field, interest rate reductions by many central banks – notably the European Central Bank, the quantitative easing in major economies worldwide and the downward revision in global growth forecasts.”
Despite the global financial threats, the Israeli economy is still in the black and healthier than the economies of many European countries. The shekel has risen by nearly 9% over the past six months, making it one of the best-performing currencies in the world, after the Mexican peso. Israel’s central bank also plans to buy around $2.1 billion in foreign currencies.
Israel's economy is heavily dependent on exports, and a strong shekel weakens the competitiveness of Israel's products abroad.
It was Japan this year that shot off the latest round in the currency war after announcing monetary stimulus of historic proportions. Recent steps by the world’s third-largest economy have become a central concern. The impact of the country’s aggressive new monetary policy has been making central bankers around the world lose sleep. Is the Bank of Japan trying to influence exchange rates to give its exporters an advantage? Other countries might react in kind, which is exactly what happens in currency wars.
Actually, this is not surprising to us. The global increase in the money supply and lowering of interest rates is not surprising because countries will have to keep doing that in order to keep their exports competitive. It is a currency war and those who inflate first, get the most benefits. They are short-lived because other countries will follow and the ultimate result will eventually be huge inflation on a global scale, but, again, on a short-term basis, the monetary authorities are pressed not to stay behind others. The comments about the lack of currency war are not surprising either. Speaking publicly about it would simply encourage other countries to join in sooner, and those that are already printing more money don’t want that to happen as it means that the above-mentioned advantage that they gained would disappear.