By Megan Doyle
In this six-part series, financial journalist Frances Coppola examines the history, evolution, and potential future of safe assets and safe haven currencies, paying specific attention to the historical ramifications of FX volatility and the dollar’s persistent role as the world’s reserve currency.
Satisfying the three conditions of economists’ “trilemma” theoretically leads to monetary sovereignty. Still, some countries that should be economically stable, in theory, are not in reality. The first article in the series explains how the concepts of “exchange rate pass-through” and “developed market privilege” shed light on why the trilemma seems to apply better to some countries than others, what it all means for safe haven assets, and how monetary sovereignty affects exchange rate volatility.
In the 1990s, high foreign exchange rate volatility caused several FX crises across the globe. This article explores the causes of those crises, starting with Mexico’s “tequila” crisis of 1994-5 and ending with Argentina’s sovereign default in 2001. The crises taught many developing countries to build up large FX reserve buffers that protect against FX risk and make them more attractive trading partners for U.S. export businesses.
So-called “safe assets” and “safe haven currencies” are sought after precisely because they’re considered safe, but the global financial crisis leading up to the Great Recession of 2008-09 revealed that they’re not always risk-free. This article examines the failure of dollar-denominated safe haven currency assets during the first half of the 2000s, how it affected the dollar’s exchange rate, and what it meant for currency exchange rates around the world.
After the FX volatility crises of the 1990s, many countries worked to build up reserves of safe haven currencies to mitigate FX risk. The U.S. quickly became the primary supplier of safe assets for the world, but this period of “global savings glut” caused a growing U.S. account deficit and a depressed dollar exchange rate. This article dives into why the pursuit of safe assets helped pave the way for the Great Recession.
Economists have long pondered the possibility of another currency replacing the dollar’s role as the world’s reserve currency. In addition to explaining what a world reserve currency is and what it means for foreign exchange rates, this article explores several possible alternatives to the dollar’s role as world currency, including a “multi-polar” system and a new global monetary system with a universal trade settlement currency based on the International Monetary Fund’s special drawing rights (SDR) currency basket.
Global digital currencies like bitcoin and ethereum are already here, making a global digital reserve currency possible. This article explores whether a new digital world reserve currency would be dependent on central banks, issued by central banks, or entirely independent of central banks. It peeks into the future by investigating the possibility of a global digital reserve currency and how it could affect the global demand for safe assets.
Megan Doyle is a business technology writer and researcher based in Wantagh, NY, whose work focuses primarily on financial services technology.