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. Economics

    Investing Opportunities as Central Banks Diverge

    After the Paris attacks investors are focusing on central bank policy and its potential for divergence: tightened by the Fed while the ECB pursues easing.
  2. Economics

    Long-Term Investing Impact of the Paris Attacks

    We share some insights on how the recent terrorist attacks in Paris could impact the economy and markets going forward.
  3. Savings

    How Americans Can Open a Bank Account In Thailand

    Have your paperwork in order and be sure to shop around.
  4. Technical Indicators

    Using Pivot Points For Predictions

    Learn one of the most common methods of finding support and resistance levels.
  5. Forex Education

    Explaining Uncovered Interest Rate Parity

    Uncovered interest rate parity is when the difference in interest rates between two nations is equal to the expected change in exchange rates.
  6. Trading Strategies

    How to Trade In a Flat Market

    Reduce position size by 50% to 75% in a flat market.
  7. Markets

    Will Paris Attacks Undo the European Union Dream?

    Last Friday's attacks in Paris are transforming the migrant crisis into an EU security threat, which could undermine the European Union dream.
  8. Markets

    What Slow Global Growth Means for Portfolios

    While U.S. growth remains relatively resilient, global growth continues to slip.
  9. Economics

    Could Saudi Arabia Really Go Bankrupt?

    The IMF warned that Saudi Arabia may run out of the financial assets needed to support spending within five years. Is Saudi Arabia's government doing enough?
  10. Economics

    Who Stands To Lose (And Gain) From The Paris Attacks

    For every major world event, there are those who stand to lose and those who stand to gain. A look at the short, medium, and long-term impacts of the Paris attacks.
  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. How do mutual funds work in India?

    Mutual funds in India work in much the same way as mutual funds in the United States. Like their American counterparts, Indian ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. 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 >>
  4. 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 >>
  5. 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 >>
  6. 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 >>

You May Also Like

Hot Definitions
  1. Turkey

    Slang for an investment that yields disappointing results or turns out worse than expected. Failed business deals, securities ...
  2. Barefoot Pilgrim

    A slang term for an unsophisticated investor who loses all of his or her wealth by trading equities in the stock market. ...
  3. Quick Ratio

    The quick ratio is an indicator of a company’s short-term liquidity. The quick ratio measures a company’s ability to meet ...
  4. Black Tuesday

    October 29, 1929, when the DJIA fell 12% - one of the largest one-day drops in stock market history. More than 16 million ...
  5. Black Monday

    October 19, 1987, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) lost almost 22% in a single day. That event marked the beginning ...
  6. Monetary Policy

    Monetary policy is the actions of a central bank, currency board or other regulatory committee that determine the size and ...
Trading Center