Almost eight year ago, we first presented a chart first created by JPMorgan’s Michael Cembalest, which showed very simply and vividly that reserve currencies don’t last forever, and that in the not too distant future, the US Dollar would also lose its status as the world’s most important currency, since it is never different this time.
As Cembalest put it back in January 2012, “I am reminded of the following remark from late MIT economist Rudiger Dornbusch: ‘Crisis takes a much longer time coming than you think, and then it happens much faster than you would have thought.'”
Perhaps it is not a coincidence then that in light of the growing number of mentions of MMT and various other terminal, destructive monetary policies that have been proposed to kick on the current financial system the can just a little bit longer, that the topic of longevity of reserve currency status is once again becoming all the rage, and none other than JPMorgan’s Private Bank ask in this month’s investment strategy note whether “the dollar’s “exorbitant privilege” is coming to an end?”
So why is JPM, after first creating the iconic chart above which has since spread virally across all financial corners of the internet, not only worried that the dollar’s reserve status may be coming to an end, but in fact goes so far as to state that “we believe the dollar could lose its status as the world’s dominant currency (which could see it depreciate over the medium term) due to structural reasons as well as cyclical impediments.”
Read on to learn why even the largest US bank has started to lose faith in the world’s most powerful currency.
Is the dollar’s “exorbitant privilege” coming to an end?
The U.S. dollar (USD) has been the world’s dominant reserve currency for almost a century. As such, many investors today, even outside the United States, have built and become comfortable with sizable USD overweights in their portfolios. However, we believe the dollar could lose its status as the world’s dominant currency (which could see it depreciate over the medium term) due to structural reasons as well as cyclical impediments.
As such, diversifying dollar exposure by placing a higher weighting on other currencies in developed markets and in Asia, as well as precious metals makes sense today. This diversification can be achieved with a strategy that maintains the underlying assets in an investment portfolio, but changes the mix of currencies within that portfolio. This is a completely bespoke approach that can be customized to meet the unique needs of individual clients.
The rise of the U.S. dollar
It is commonly perceived that the U.S. dollar overtook the Great British Pound (GBP) as the world’s international reserve currency with the signing of the Bretton Woods Agreements after World War II. The reality is that sterling’s value was eroded for many decades prior to Bretton Woods. The dollar’s rise to international prominence was fueled by the establishment of the Federal Reserve System a little over a century ago and U.S. economic emergence after World War I. The Federal Reserve System aided in the establishment of more mature capital markets and a nationally coordinated monetary policy, two important pillars of reserve-currency countries. Being the world’s unit of account has given the United States what former French Finance Minister Valery d’Estaing called an “exorbitant privilege” by being able to purchase imports and issue debt in its own currency and run persistent deficits seemingly without consequence.
The shifting center
There is nothing to suggest that the dollar dominance should remain in perpetuity. In fact, the dominant international currency has changed many times throughout history going back thousands of years as the world’s economic center has shifted.
After the end of World War II, the U.S. accounted for biggest share of world GDP at more than 25%. This number is brought to more than 40% when we include Western European powers. Since then, the main driver of economic growth has shifted eastwards towards Asia at the expense of the U.S. and the West. China is at the epicenter of this recent economic shift driven by the country’s strong growth and commitment to domestic reforms. Over the last 70 years, China has quadrupled its share of global GDP to around 20%—roughly the same share as the U.S.—and this share is expected to continue to grow in the years ahead. China is no longer just a manufacturer of low cost goods as a growing share of corporate earnings is coming from “high value add” sectors like technology.