Monday, April 21, 2014

McKinnon and Wolf on global imbalances and Chinese liberalization

This is a bit old. It was published earlier this month in the Financial Times, as a response to Wolf's column. McKinnon is a well-known exchange rate specialist, and one of the few that has, correctly in my judgment, not been overly concerned with the international role of the dollar for the last three decades. His concern with Chinese liberalization of financial markets is that it would lead to inflows, since interest rates in the developed world are too low, and instead of balancing the trade surpluses, it would lead to more accumulation of reserves. The implicit notion is that if rates of interest were higher abroad, and Chinese funds flowed abroad it would be okay to liberalize, one supposes.

Note that this is also what Martin Wolf suggested in the original column (subscription required). In his words: "In the long run China’s capital account will presumably become largely open and in time, no doubt, China’s savers will own large parts of the world." In other words, the idea is that Chinese funds would finance the over spending in the rest of the world, and help in dealing with global imbalances, and Chinese savers would invest in real assets abroad. In contrast, if inflows were added to the trade surpluses, the Chinese would add to the 'problem' of the global imbalances.

Note that this view goes hand in hand with the notion that the accumulation of reserves is intrinsically bad. Wolf says:
"The principal form of capital outflow has been the accumulation of foreign currency reserves by the government. At $3.8tn last December (almost $3,000 for each Chinese person), these are gigantic and extremely unrewarding. It would be far better if some of this were converted into real assets."
Don't get me wrong, China holds more reserves than it needs for avoiding a currency crisis, or any sort of balance of payments problem that might arise (in a very distant future). Yet, the notion that China could open the capital account and not get into the kinds of problems that all the countries that liberalized financial markets did seems excessively optimistic.

There is essentially no problem if China maintains a trade surplus and attracts capital flows, increasing their reserves. And that has no relation to the financing of their investment, or the transition to a more consumer oriented economy. As I said a while ago global rebalancing is one of the myths of the current crisis. If the US grows faster, say as the result of an improbable fiscal expansion, the imbalances would grow larger, and that would be good.

I hope that China doesn't open the capital account, but that has nothing to do with the global imbalances, and all to do with the problems of financial liberalization.
In the long run China’s capital account will presumably become largely open and in time, no doubt, China’s savers will own large parts of the world. - See more at:

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