The Return of Currency Wars

NEW YORK – The recent decision by the Bank of Japan to increase the scope of its quantitative easing is a signal that another round of currency wars may be under way. The BOJ’s effort to weaken the yen is a beggar-thy-neighbor approach that is inducing policy reactions throughout Asia and around the world.

Central banks in China, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and Thailand, fearful of losing competitiveness relative to Japan, are easing their own monetary policies – or will soon ease more. The European Central Bank and the central banks of Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, and a few Central European countries are likely to embrace quantitative easing or use other unconventional policies to prevent their currencies from appreciating.

All of this will lead to a strengthening of the US dollar, as growth in the United States is picking up and the Federal Reserve has signaled that it will begin raising interest rates next year. But, if global growth remains weak and the dollar becomes too strong, even the Fed may decide to raise interest rates later and more slowly to avoid excessive dollar appreciation.

The cause of the latest currency turmoil is clear: In an environment of private and public deleveraging from high debts, monetary policy has become the only available tool to boost demand and growth. Fiscal austerity has exacerbated the impact of deleveraging by exerting a direct and indirect drag on growth. Lower public spending reduces aggregate demand, while declining transfers and higher taxes reduce disposable income and thus private consumption.