What might not be as clear (on the surface anyway) is how recent events in developing economy FX markets following the devaluation of the yuan stem from a seismic shift we began discussing late last year - namely, the death of the petrodollar system which has served to underwrite decades of dollar dominance and was, until recently, a fixture of the post-war global economic order.
In short, the world seems to have underestimated how structurally important collapsing crude prices are to global finance.
For years, producers funnelled their dollar proceeds into USD assets providing a perpetual source of liquidity, boosting the financial strength of the reserve currency, leading to even higher asset prices and even more USD-denominated purchases, and so forth, in a virtuous (especially if one held US-denominated assets and printed US currency) loop.
That all came to an abrupt, if quiet end last year when a confluence of economic (e.g. shale production) and geopolitical (e.g. squeeze the Russians) factors led the Saudis to, as we put it, Plaxico'd themselves and the US.
The ensuing plunge in crude meant that suddenly, the flow of petrodollars was set to dry up and FX reserves across commodity producing countries were poised to come under increased pressure. For the first time in decades, exported petrodollar capital turned negative.
We are, to put it mildly, entering a not-so-brave new world and the shift was catalyzed by the dying petrodollar. Kazakhstan’s move to float the tenge is but the beginning and indeed Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Massimov told Bloomberg on Saturday that the world has entered "a new era" and that soon, any and all petro currency dollar pegs are set to fall like dominoes. Here’s more:
...the big picture takeaway is that the world is now beginning to feel the impact of the petrodollar's quiet demise, and because this is only the beginning, we've included below the entire text of the petrodollar's obituary which we penned last November .
Two years ago, in hushed tones at first, then ever louder, the financial world began discussing that which shall never be discussed in polite company - the end of the system that according to many has framed and facilitated the US Dollar's reserve currency status: the Petrodollar, or the world in which oil export countries would recycle the dollars they received in exchange for their oil exports, by purchasing more USD-denominated assets, boosting the financial strength of the reserve currency, leading to even higher asset prices and even more USD-denominated purchases, and so forth, in a virtuous (especially if one held US-denominated assets and printed US currency) loop.
The main thrust for this shift away from the USD, if primarily in the non-mainstream media, was that with Russia and China, as well as the rest of the BRIC nations, increasingly seeking to distance themselves from the US-led, "developed world" status quo spearheaded by the IMF, global trade would increasingly take place through bilateral arrangements which bypass the (Petro)dollar entirely. And sure enough, this has certainly been taking place, as first Russia and China, together with Iran, and ever more developing nations, have transacted among each other, bypassing the USD entirely, instead engaging in bilateral trade arrangements, leading to, among other thing, such discussions as, in today's FT, why China's Renminbi offshore market has gone from nothing to billions in a short space of time.
And yet, few would have believed that the Petrodollar did indeed quietly die, although ironically, without much input from either Russia or China, and paradoxically, mostly as a result of the actions of none other than the Fed itself, with its strong dollar policy, and to a lesser extent Saudi Arabia too, which by glutting the world with crude, first intended to crush Putin, and subsequently, to take out the US crude cost-curve, may have Plaxico'ed both itself, and its closest Petrodollar trading partner, the US of A.
As Reuters reports, for the first time in almost two decades, energy-exporting countries are set to pull their "petrodollars" out of world markets this year, citing a study by BNP Paribas (more details below). Basically, the Petrodollar, long serving as the US leverage to encourage and facilitate USD recycling, and a steady reinvestment in US-denominated assets by the Oil exporting nations, and thus a means to steadily increase the nominal price of all USD-priced assets, just drove itself into irrelevance.
An explosion and fire has occurred at a chemical warehouse in Shandong province in eastern China, shattering windows in nearby houses and injuring at least nine people. The site which contains potentially dangerous chemicals is only one kilometer from a residential area.
The explosion happened at 8:40pm local time (12:40pm GMT) at a factory run by Shandong's Runxing Chemical Co., Xinhua reported citing an official Chinese newspaper, People's Daily.
At least nine people were injured, according to Chinese media, but no fatalities have been reported.
The plant in Shandong province produces around 300,000 tons of adiponitrile, TASS reported. According to local media reports, the toxic colorless liquid releases poisonous gases when it reacts with fire.
After the initial blast the facility was engulfed in flames, and some 150 firefighters were deployed to the scene to bring the huge blaze under control.
The explosion was so strong that its blast wave was reportedly felt within a two-kilometer (one mile) radius. Windows in nearby houses shattered.
Last week, more than a hundred people were killed and some 700 injured in explosions at a warehouse storing hazardous chemicals in Tianjin port. Dozens are still missing and thousands of people were evacuated from the area, their homes having been either destroyed or deemed unsafe to return to.
Following the deadly incident in Tianjin in northeastern China, the country's handling of the chemical blasts and the lack of information during such incidents have been criticized by a top UN expert.
While China finishes the construction of a landing strip for humanitarian purposes on its artificial island in the Spratly Islands archipelago in the South China Sea, the US is fiercely accusing the country of militarization of the area.
A 3,000-foot Chinese airstrip on one of seven man-crafted islands in the Spratly Islands that is in the final stage of construction may be used in the future for conducting military operations by China, authors of a recent Pentagon report claimed.
As soon as the runaway is built, China will use it for airplanes, which are now based on the country’s aircraft carriers in the South China Sea, the report reads.
Although the constructing of various facilities, including the runaway, on artificial islands is “within the scope of China's sovereignty," according to Chinese officials, Americans labeled it as “further reclamation of territories” by China in the South China Sea. Moreover, they accused China of a military build-up.
China's recent mini-devaluations had less to do with her mounting economic challenges, and more to do with a statement from the IMF on 4 August, that it was proposing to defer the decision to include the yuan in the SDR until next October
The IMF's excuse was to avoid changes at the calendar year-end and to allow users of the SDR time to "adjust to a potential changed basket composition". It was a poor explanation that was hardly credible, given that SDR users have already had five years to prepare; but the decision confirming the delay was finally released by the IMF in a statement on Wednesday 19th.
One cannot blame China for taking the view that these are delaying tactics designed to keep the yuan out, and if so suspicion falls squarely on the US as instigators. America has most to lose, because if the yuan is accepted in the SDR the dollar's future hegemony will be compromised, and everyone knows it. The final decision as to whether the yuan will be included is not due to be taken until later this year, so China still has time to persuade, by any means at her disposal, all the IMF members to agree to include the yuan in the SDR as originally proposed, even if its inclusion is temporarily deferred.
China's leaders have a vision, and it is a mistake to think of China solely in the context of a country whose economy is on the wrong end of a credit cycle. This is of course true and is creating enormous problems, but the government plans to reallocate capital resources from legacy industries to future projects. Rightly or wrongly and unlike any western government at this point in a credit cycle, China accepts that a deflating credit bubble is a necessary consequence of a deliberate policy that supports her future plans. She is prepared to live with and manage the fall-out from declining asset valuations and business failures, facilitated by state ownership of the banks.
Instead, to understand why she is changing the yuan-dollar rate we must look at currencies from China's perspective. China is the world's largest manufacturing power by far, and can be said to control global trade pricing as a result. It then becomes obvious that China is not so much devaluing the yuan, but causing a dollar revaluation upwards relative to international trade prices. She is aware that the US economy is in difficulties and that the Fed is worried about the prospect of price deflation, so lower import prices are the last thing the Fed needs. Now China's currency move begins to make sense.
The mini-devaluations were a signal to Washington and the rest of the world that if she so wishes China can dictate the global economic outlook through the foreign exchange markets. China believes, with good reason, that she is more politically and economically robust, and has a better grasp over the actions of her own citizens, than the welfare economies of the west in the event of an economic downturn.
Therefore, she is pursuing her foreign exchange policy from a position of strength. And the increments that will now be added to gold reserves month by month are a signal that China believes she can destabilise the dollar through her control of the physical gold market, because it gently reminds us of an unanswered question always ducked by the US Treasury: what evidence is there of the state of the US's gold reserves?
The stakes are high, and China's devaluation of only a few per cent has caused enough chaos in capital markets for now.
But if the eventual answer is that the yuan will not be allowed to join the SDR basket, it will be in China's interest to increase the pace of development of the new BRICS bank instead with its own version of an SDR, selling dollar reserves and underlying Treasuries to fund it.
The threat that China will turn her back on the post-war financial system and the IMF would also undermine the credibility of that institution more rapidly perhaps than the dollar's hegemony if the yuan was accepted. And if a US-controlled IMF loses its credibility, even America's allies will desert her, just as they did to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank a few months ago.
It was always going to be the US that faced a predicament from China's growing economic power. She has chosen to bluff it out instead of gracefully accepting the winds of change, as Britain did over her empire sixty years ago. Change in the economic pecking-order is happening again whether we like it or not and China will have her way.