Friday, August 14, 2015

CHINA | Its Move Today vs. FDR's in 1933-34

FDR's moves to stabilize financial markets and devalue the
dollar paid off.
China's devaluing the renminbi (aka the yuan) appears to be based on the idea that by devaluing in stages, the rest of the world is less likely to care.

Actually, no.

It seems that the Chinese government had in mind loosening the effective peg of the renminbi to the dollar, allowing the currency to fluctuate within a wider band against the dollar.

But markets react fast. Once people in the marketplace think they understand what is happening, they worry about losing money every minute they delay in acting on the knowledge.

FDR and his first Treasury Secretary, Will Woodin, had the brains first to stabilize the financial markets in March-April 1933, and then to buy all private gold in May 1933. They were preparing quietly for a devaluation in order to:
  • reduce the foreign (gold) equivalent of U.S. public and private debts
  • encourage exports and
  • discourage imports.
Gold played a role vis-a-vis the dollar then that the dollar today plays vis-a-vis the renminbi.

FDR in 1933 forced the sale to the government of private gold (other than gold coins in the hands of collectors). Then, at the beginning of 1934, FDR devalued the dollar against gold in one fell swoop, from $20.67 for an ounce of gold, where it had been for a century (except for the Civil War), to $35 an ounce.

His action was meant to be a one-time event, and so it turned out to be.

An example of what appears to be the Chinese program is conveyed by an old Irish joke. A Kerry man in the Dail urges his colleagues to change all the road signs so that vehicles drive on the right, as they do in Continental Europe. He figured that the cost could be spread out over several years. The first year they would move the trucks over to the right lane. Then they would move the buses, and the third year they would move over the private cars.

As Lady Macbeth says in Act 1, Scene 7: "If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well / It were done quickly." FDR understood that. The Chinese government, if we understand their moves aright,  does not.