What Is a Fixed Exchange Rate?

A fixed exchange rate is a regime applied by a government or central bank ties the country's currency official exchange rate to another country's currency or the price of gold. The purpose of a fixed exchange rate system is to keep a currency's value within a narrow band.

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Fixed Exchange Rate

Fixed Exchange Rate Explained

Fixed rates provide greater certainty for exporters and importers. Fixed rates also help the government maintain low inflation, which, in the long run, keep the interest rates down and stimulates trade and investment. 

Most major industrialized nations have had floating exchange rate systems, where the going price on the foreign exchange market (forex) sets its currency price. This practice began for these nations in the early 1970s while developing economies continue with fixed rate systems.

Key Takeaways

  • The purpose of this system is to keep a currency's value within a narrow band.
  • Fixed exchange rates provide greater certainty for exporters and importers, and helps the government maintain low inflation.
  • Many industrialized nations began using the system in the early 1970s.

Fixed Exchange Rate Bretton Woods Background

From the end of World War II to the early 1970s, the Bretton Woods Agreement pegged the exchange rates of participating nations to the value of the U.S. dollar, which was fixed to the price of gold.

When the United States' postwar balance of payments surplus turned to a deficit in the 1950s and 1960s, the periodic exchange rate adjustments permitted under the agreement ultimately proved insufficient. In 1973, President Richard Nixon removed the United States from the gold standard, ushering in the era of floating rates.

The Beginnings of the Monetary Union

The European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) was established in 1979 as a precursor to monetary union and the introduction of the euro. Member nations, including Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, and Italy, agreed to maintain their currency rates within plus or minus 2.25% of a central point.

The United Kingdom joined in October 1990 at an excessively strong conversion rate and was forced to withdraw two years later. The original members of the euro converted from their home currencies at their then-current ERM central rate as of Jan. 1, 1999. The euro itself trades freely against other major currencies while the currencies of countries hoping to join trade in a managed float known as ERM II.

Disadvantages of Fixed Exchange Rates

Developing economies often use a fixed-rate system to limit speculation and provide a stable system. A stable system allows importers, exporters, and investors to plan without worrying about currency moves.

However, a fixed-rate system limits a central bank's ability to adjust interest rates as needed for economic growth. A fixed-rate system also prevents market adjustments when a currency becomes over or undervalued. Effective management of a fixed-rate system also requires a large pool of reserves to support the currency when it is under pressure.

An unrealistic official exchange rate can also lead to the development of a parallel, unofficial, or dual, exchange rate. A large gap between the official and unofficial rates can divert hard currency away from the central bank, which can lead to forex shortages and periodic large devaluations. These can be more disruptive to an economy than the periodic adjustment of a floating exchange rate regime.

Real World Example of a Fixed Exchange Rate

In 2018, according to BBC News, Iran set a fixed exchange rate of 42,000 rials to the dollar, after losing 8% against the dollar in a single day. The government decided to remove the discrepancy between the rate traders used—60,000 rials—and the official rate, which at the time was 37,000.