G20 finance ministers meet amid ‘currency war’ fears

MOSCOW – The finance ministers of the G20 group of nations are meeting in Moscow amid concerns that major trading powers may be heading towards a currency war.
Bank of Japan Governor Masaaki Shirakawa. Net photo.
Bank of Japan Governor Masaaki Shirakawa. Net photo.

MOSCOW – The finance ministers of the G20 group of nations are meeting in Moscow amid concerns that major trading powers may be heading towards a currency war.

Japan’s monetary stance has seen a big decline in the yen, while the euro has risen against a basket of currencies.

The value of a country’s currency has a big impact on its trade and there are fears nations may try to influence markets to help boost their economies.

The G20 has previously asked nations to refrain from market intervention.

Earlier this week, the G7 group of nations issued a statement, saying they would not set targets for exchange rates of their currencies.

On Thursday, Anton Siluanov, Finance Minister of Russia, the host of the G20 meeting, said it, too, was likely to issue a similar communiqué.

“The language may differ (from the G7), but the intent will remain the same,” the minister was quoted as saying by the Reuters news agency.

Slowing growth


The meeting comes at a time when some of the world’s biggest economies and regions are still struggling to spur economic growth.

Figures released on Thursday showed that Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, remains in recession.

Its gross domestic product (GDP) shrank 0.1% in the three months to the end of December, from the previous three months, the third straight quarter of contraction.

Meanwhile, the eurozone recession also deepened in the final three months of 2012.

The economy of the 17 nations in the euro shrank by 0.6% in the fourth quarter, the sharpest contraction since the beginning of 2009.

It is the first time the region failed to grow in any quarter during a calendar year.

The economies of Germany, France and Italy, the biggest members of the eurozone, all shrunk by more than expected.

This has led to fears that countries that continue to struggle may try to devalue their currencies in order to trigger growth.

A weak currency makes goods from a country, or region, in the case of eurozone, cheaper to foreign buyers and also boosts profits of firms when they repatriate their foreign earnings back home.

Overblown?

The fears have been stoked further by the recent movements of the yen and the euro, as well as by comments made by some senior leaders.

The yen has weakened more than 15% against the US dollar since November last year, after Japan took an aggressive monetary stance to try and stoke inflation and expanded a key stimulus measure.

Ahead of the G20 meeting, the Bank of Japan governor Masaaki Shirakawa said the central bank would continue to ease policy in the future.

“The Bank of Japan is conducting monetary policy to achieve stability in Japan’s economy. It will continue to do so,” he said.

However, some analysts said that Japan was not moving to deliberately weaken its currency.

“There are countries within the G20 that actually set exchange rate targets. And that isn’t what Japan is doing,” said Frances Hudson, a strategist at Standard Life Investments.

“Japan is doing what seems to be actions for economic reasons, such as tackling deflation,” Hudson added.

Meanwhile, the euro has risen by 6% against a basket of other currencies in the past six months.

At a meeting of eurozone ministers, French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici said he was worried that the rising single currency is making the region’s goods less competitive.

The European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi, was also deemed to be trying to talk down the euro at his press conference following the bank’s latest rate decision.

However, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said countries had been easing their policies to try and revive growth and that it did not see any threat of competitive currency devaluation for now.

Gerry Rice, a spokesman for the IMF, said that the talks of a currency war were “overblown”.

“Our multilateral assessment does not indicate very significant deviations from the fair value for the relevant currencies,” he added.

 

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