In June 2010, China's government decided to end a 23-month peg of its currency with the U.S. dollar. The announcement was praised by global economic leaders and followed months of commentary and criticism from United States politicians. But what prompted the long awaited move? (For background reading, see Why China's Currency Tangos With The USD.)

TUTORIAL: Currency Trading

The Chinese Model
China's economic boom over the last decade has reshaped its own country and the world. Once a country historically known for communist rule and isolationist policies, China has changed gears and become a global economic powerhouse. This pace of growth required a change in the country's currency policy in order to handle certain aspects of the economy effectively - in particular, export trade and consumer price inflation.

But none of the country's prior growth rates could be established without a fixed or pegged U.S. dollar exchange rate. And China's not the only one that has used this strategy. Economies big and small favor this type of exchange rate for several reasons. Let's take a look at some of these advantages.

Pros for a Fixed/Pegged Rate
Countries prefer a fixed exchange rate regime for the purposes of export and trade. By controlling its domestic currency a country can – and will more often than not – keep its exchange rate low. This helps to support the competitiveness of its goods as they are sold abroad. For example, let's assume a stronger euro (EUR)/Vietnamese dong (VND) exchange rate. Given that the euro is much stronger than the Vietnamese currency, a T-shirt can cost a company five times more to produce an manufacture in a European Union country as compared to Vietnam.

But the real advantage is seen in trade relationships between countries with low costs of production (like Thailand and Vietnam) and economies with stronger comparative currencies (the United States and European Union). When Chinese and Vietnamese manufacturers translate their earnings back to their respective countries, there is an even greater amount of profit that is made through the exchange rate. So, keeping the exchange rate low ensures a domestic product's competitiveness abroad and profitability at home.

The Currency Protection Racket
The fixed exchange rate dynamic not only adds to a company's earnings outlook, it also supports a rising standard of living and overall economic growth. But that's not all. Governments that have also sided with the idea of a fixed, or pegged, exchange rate are looking to protect their domestic economies. Foreign exchange swings have been known to adversely affect an economy and its growth outlook. And, by shielding the domestic currency from volatile swings, governments can reduce the likelihood of a currency crisis.

After a short couple of years with a semi-floated currency, China decided during the global financial crisis of 2008 to revert back to a fixed exchange rate regime. The decision helped the Chinese economy to emerge two years later relatively unscathed. Meanwhile, other global industrialized economies turned lower before rebounding. (For more insight, check out Currency Exchange: Floating Vs. Fixed.)

Cons of a Fixed/Pegged Rate
Is there any downside to a fixed or pegged currency? Yes. This type of currency regime isn't all positive. There is a price that governments pay when implementing a fixed or pegged exchange rate in their countries.

A common element with all fixed or pegged foreign exchange regimes is the need to maintain the fixed exchange rate. This requires large amounts of reserves as the country's government or central bank is constantly buying or selling the domestic currency. China is a perfect example. Before repealing the fixed rate scheme in 2010, Chinese foreign exchange reserves grew significantly each year in order to maintain the U.S. dollar peg rate. The pace of growth in reserves was so rapid it took China only a couple of years to overshadow Japan's foreign exchange reserves. As of January 2011, it was announced that Beijing owned $2.8 trillion in reserves – more than double that of Japan at the time. (To learn more, check out How do central banks acquire currency reserves and how much are they required to hold?)

Importing Inflation
The problem with huge currency reserves is that the massive amount of funds or capital that is being created can create unwanted economic side effects – namely higher inflation. The more currency reserves there are, the wider the monetary supply – causing prices to rise. Rising prices can cause havoc for countries that are looking to keep things stable. As of December 2010, China's consumer price inflation had moved to around 5%. (Learn more about inflation in our Inflation Tutorial.)

The Thai Experience
These types of economic elements have caused many fixed exchange rate regimes to fail. Although these economies are able to defend themselves against adverse global situations, they tend to be exposed domestically. Many times, indecision about adjusting the peg for an economy's currency can be coupled with the inability to defend the underlying fixed rate.

The Thai baht was one such currency.

The baht was at one time pegged to the U.S. dollar. Once considered a prized currency investment, the Thai baht came under attack following adverse capital market events during 1996-1997. The currency depreciated and the baht plunged rapidly because the government was unwilling and unable to defend the baht peg using limited reserves. In July 1997, the Thai government was forced into floating the currency before accepting an International Monetary Fund bailout. Between July of 1997 and October 1997, the baht fell by as much as 40%. (For more about currencies under attack, check out The Greatest Currency Trades Ever Made.)

Bottom Line
Given both pros and cons of a fixed exchange rate regime, one can see why both major and minor economies favor such a policy choice. By pegging its currency, a country can gain comparative trading advantages while protecting its own economic interests. However, these advantages also come at a price. Ultimately, however, the currency peg is a policy measure that can be used by any nation and will always remain a viable option.

Related Articles
  1. Markets

    The 5 Biggest Chinese Natural Gas Companies

    Read about the top five Chinese natural gas companies as measured by gas production volume and learn a little more about their business operations.
  2. Markets

    The 5 Biggest Chinese Insurance Companies

    Read about the top Chinese insurance companies by market capitalization, and learn a little about their positions in the marketplace.
  3. Trading Strategies

    Stock Trading for Free: Now a Reality

    Believe it or not, you can now trade stocks and ETFs for free. Here's a look at providers offering commission-free trading.
  4. Investing Basics

    5 Tips For Investing In IPOs

    It’s not easy to profit from IPO​s, but the money is there.
  5. Stock Analysis

    4 Companies Affected by the Appreciating Dollar

    Learn why the appreciating dollar negatively impacts certain companies such as Google, Facebook, Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson.
  6. Forex Strategies

    These Are The Best Hours To Trade the Euro

    Six popular currency pairs and numerous secondary crosses offer euro traders a wide variety of short- and long-term opportunities.
  7. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    Top 3 Switzerland ETFs

    Explore detailed analysis and information of the top three Swiss exchange-traded funds that offer exposure to the Swiss equities market.
  8. Trading Strategies

    The Top Spread-Betting Strategies

    What are the most commonly followed spread-betting strategies (in countries where it's legal)?
  9. Trading Strategies

    Who Actually Trades or Invests In Penny Stocks?

    Although penny stocks are highly speculative, millions of people trade them daily. Here are 10 different types who do.
  10. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    ETF Analysis: SPDR Dow Jones International RelEst

    Learn how the SPDR Dow Jones International Real Estate exchange-traded fund (ETF) is managed and for whom the ETF is most appropriate.
RELATED TERMS
  1. Trade Credit

    An agreement where a customer can purchase goods on account (without ...
  2. Brazil, Russia, India And China ...

    An acronym for the economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China ...
  3. Optimal Currency Area

    The geographic area in which a single currency would create the ...
  4. European Monetary System - EMS

    A 1979 arrangement between several European countries which links ...
  5. European Sovereign Debt Crisis

    A period of time in which several European countries faced the ...
  6. Sprexit

    Sprexit, or SPanish euRo exit, is the possible case of Spain ...
RELATED FAQS
  1. What are some risks a company takes when entering a currency swap?

    Currency swaps are commonly used to hedge loan transactions. Often, an American company and a foreign company exchange the ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. What kinds of costs are included in Free on Board (FOB) shipping?

    Free on board (FOB) shipping is a trade term published by the International Chamber of Commerce or ICC, that indicates which ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. What are the differences between B-shares and H-shares traded on Chinese stock exchanges?

    Equity listings in China generally fall under three primary categories: A shares, B shares and H shares. B shares represent ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. What are the differences between H-shares and A-shares on Chinese and Hong Kong stock ...

    Publicly trade companies in China generally fall under three share categories: A shares, B shares and H-shares. A-shares ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. Why are financial markets considered to be transparent?

    Financial markets are considered transparent due to the fact it is believed all relevant information is freely available ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. What are the advantages and disadvantages of the International Monetary Fund?

    Established following World War II to help with post-war recovery, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) serves as a lender ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Trading Center
×

You are using adblocking software

Want access to all of Investopedia? Add us to your “whitelist”
so you'll never miss a feature!