A reserve currency is a foreign currency held in substantial quantities by governments, central banks, and other financial institutions as part of their foreign exchange reserves. These reserves are typically used to stabilise their domestic currency’s value and to conduct international trade and investment transactions.
The US dollar is currently the dominant reserve currency, accounting for about 60% of global foreign exchange reserves as of 2022. Other currencies that are commonly held as reserves include the euro, the Japanese yen, and the British pound.
Countries hold reserve currencies because they are widely accepted as a means of payment for international transactions and are seen as a stable store of value. Reserve currencies also play an essential role in the global economy as they facilitate international trade and investment, and can affect exchange rates and global financial stability. The store of value of a reserve currency depends on multiple factors, such as economic stability, political stability, and the size and liquidity of the currency’s market.
Impact of reserve currencies on investments
Reserve currencies can have a substantial impact on investments in several ways.
First, the choice of reserve currency can affect the attractiveness of a country or region for international investment. Countries with strong currencies that are widely held as reserves may be viewed as more stable and reliable investment destinations, which can attract more foreign investment.
Second, changes in the value of reserve currencies can impact investment returns. For example, if a currency that is widely held as a reserve, such as the US dollar, depreciates significantly, investments denominated in that currency may lose value. Conversely, investments denominated in that currency may gain value if the currency appreciates.
Third, reserve currencies can affect the cost of borrowing for governments, businesses, and individuals. Because reserve currencies are widely accepted, they are often used as a benchmark for interest rates on loans and bonds. For example, if a country’s currency is not widely held as a reserve, it may need to offer higher interest rates on its bonds to attract investors.
History of reserve currency
- Gold standard: In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many countries used the gold standard, in which their currencies were pegged to a fixed amount of gold. Gold, seen as a stable store of value, was widely accepted as a means of payment for international transactions.
- British pound as the primary reserve currency: During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the British pound became the dominant international currency. This was mainly due to the British Empire being the world’s largest economy and a significant player in international trade and investment.
- US dollar as the primary reserve currency: Following World War II, the US emerged as the world’s largest economy, and the US dollar became the dominant reserve currency. This was partly due to the Bretton Woods Agreement, which established the US dollar as the primary reserve currency and linked it to gold at a fixed exchange rate.
- Rise of the euro: In the 1990s, the euro was launched as the common currency for the European Union. While it has not surpassed the US dollar as the dominant reserve currency, it has become an important alternative and is held in significant quantities by many central banks and financial institutions.
- Emerging market currencies: In recent years, there has been a growing trend toward diversification of reserve currencies, with some countries holding increasing amounts of emerging market currencies, such as the Chinese yuan and the Indian rupee.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the US dollar accounted for approximately 70% of global foreign exchange reserves in 2000. However, the coverage got reduced to about 60% as of 2022. Overall, the history of reserve currencies reflects the changing balance of economic power and the evolution of international trade and finance. While the US dollar remains the dominant reserve currency today, other currencies are steadily rising in prominence.
Correlation between gold reserves held by governments and US dollar as reserve currency
A historical correlation exists between gold reserves and the US dollar as the primary reserve currency across the world. The US dollar was accepted as the dominant reserve currency soon after World War II, partly due to the Bretton Woods Agreement, which established the US dollar as the global primary reserve currency and linked it to gold at a fixed exchange rate. Under this system, other countries could exchange their US dollar holdings for gold at a fixed rate of $35 per ounce.
However, in the 1970s, the US abandoned the gold standard and allowed the value of the US dollar to float freely against other currencies. Since then, there has been less of a direct link between gold reserves and the US dollar as a reserve currency.
That said, many central banks and governments continue to hold gold reserves as a store of value and as a means of diversifying their holdings of foreign currencies. In some cases, countries with significant gold reserves may be more likely to challenge the dominance of the US dollar as a reserve currency, as they may have more confidence in their ability to weather currency fluctuations and economic shocks.
Overall, while there is still some correlation between gold reserves and the US dollar as a reserve currency, the relationship is less direct than during the Bretton Woods era. This dynamic is because many factors now influence the role of the US dollar as the dominant reserve currency, including economic growth, inflation, interest rates, and geopolitical developments.
US dollar weaponisation
The term “US dollar weaponisation” refers to using the US dollar as a foreign policy tool, particularly in the form of economic sanctions. The US has frequently used economic sanctions to target countries it perceives as hostile or dangerous, and the US dollar as the world’s primary reserve currency gives the US significant leverage in this regard.
For example, the US can use its control over the international financial system to block transactions in US dollars or to freeze assets held in US dollars. This action can have a significant impact on the economies of targeted countries, as well as on companies and individuals that do business with those countries.
While using the US dollar as a foreign policy tool can effectively achieve US policy objectives, it can also have unintended consequences. For example, it can result in other countries seeking to reduce their preference for the US dollar and to establish alternative payment systems.
In addition, using the US dollar as a foreign policy tool would impact the US dollar’s status as the world’s primary reserve currency. If other countries become frustrated with the US’s use of economic sanctions and seek to reduce their exposure to the US dollar, it could lead to a gradual shift away from the US dollar as the dominant reserve currency. However, this is a complex and multi-faceted issue, and it is difficult to predict the exact impact that US dollar weaponisation might have on the US dollar’s status as the primary reserve currency.
Impact on Australian stock market if US dollar ceases to be the primary reserve currency
- Currency exchange rates: A shift away from the US dollar could lead to fluctuations in exchange rates between different currencies, including the Australian dollar. The Australian dollar is closely linked to the US dollar, so a significant change in the value of the US dollar could lead to volatility in the Australian dollar. These changes could impact the value of Australian companies that rely heavily on exports or imports and companies with significant overseas operations.
- Interest rates: The US dollar is currently the primary currency used for global trade and financial transactions, which means that changes in US interest rates can significantly impact global financial markets. If the US dollar were to climb down from its dominant position, interest rates and borrowing costs could become more volatile, impacting the Australian stock market, bond market and the broader economy.
- Trade and investment flows: The US dollar’s status as a reserve currency is closely linked to its position as the world’s largest economy and the dominant player in international trade and investment. If the US dollar were to lose this status, it could change global trade and investment flows. Depending on the specific industries and companies involved, this could have both positive and negative effects on the Australian stock market.
Overall, the impact of ceasing the US dollar as the primary reserve currency on the Australian stock market and Australian bond market would depend on a range of factors, including the speed and scale of the shift, as well as broader global economic and political developments.
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