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G20 Currency Tensions

If the G20 wants to soothe currency tensions, finance leaders may have to do more than simply repeat a well-practiced refrain that too much foreign exchange rate volatility is unwelcome


These Group of 20 officials, meeting in South Korea beginning on Friday, face even greater pressure to deliver something substantive after the United States delayed a hotly anticipated report on whether China (or any other country) was manipulating its currency to gain a trade advantage.


South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who will chair a G20 leaders summit in Seoul next month, said his biggest concern was that "conflicts of interest between countries could develop into trade protectionism."


This wasn't how leaders envisioned things playing out.


When G20 leaders met in Pittsburgh a little over a year ago, they were so confident they had succeeded in ending the global crisis that they declared, "It worked."


This week's meeting of finance ministers was supposed to be relatively quiet, a final planning session to put the finishing touches on agreements, sketched out in Pittsburgh, to be signed at the Seoul leaders summit.


Instead, a sluggish recovery in advanced economies and prospects for another round of Federal Reserve money printing have driven down the dollar. China's tightly managed currency has followed, while the euro, yen, real and other currencies have risen. Investor money has poured into faster-growing emerging markets, and some are at risk of overheating.


"You have to be worried that other countries are getting cranky about the rise in their currencies," said Hugh Johnson, chief investment officers of Hugh Johnson Advisors LLC in Albany, New York.


David Woo, head of global rates and currencies research at BofA Merrill Lynch, said the dollar's decline was orderly thus far, but policymakers would be on the watch for any sign that it was pushing up commodity prices.


"While a weaker dollar is desirable, a disorderly adjustment, which would exacerbate stagflation risks and undermine credibility, is not," he said.


"Disorderly" and "volatile" are two favorite terms for policymakers to describe undesirable foreign exchange moves, and they have cropped up repeatedly in comments from European officials this month.


If the G20 finance leaders' closing statement this weekend includes nothing more than a repeat of those phrases, it would signal they are not prepared to embark on a "Plaza Accord" type of currency realignment plan.


The G20 is having enough trouble showing progress on the plans already agreed -- particularly a framework for balanced global growth introduced in Pittsburgh last year.

Since that gathering, the global economy has reverted back to some of its old patterns.

China's foreign exchange reserves, already the world's largest, rose by record-large $194 billion in the third quarter to $2.65 trillion. The U.S.-China trade deficit hit an all-time high of $28 billion in August.



China's GDP figures, expected on Thursday, will likely show year-over-year third-quarter growth was a tad slower than in the previous period but still a robust 9.5 percent, according to economists polled by Reuters.


U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner reminded the rest of the G20 on Friday that the task of rebalancing did not fall only upon the United States and China.

"It requires policy reforms in all major economies," the Treasury Department said in a statement announcing the delay of its report on exchange rate policies.

Source : Reuters