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Friday, December 15, 2006

Bernanke: Pegged Renminbi an "Effective Subsidy"

Ben Bernanke stirs up a little controversy by first planning to tell China in a speech that its undervalued currency amounts to an "effective subsidy" for exporters, then softening the language when the speech is actually delivered:

Bernanke backs off from ‘subsidy’ accusation, by Kshrina Guha, Financial Times: Ben Bernanke ... stepped into a political minefield on Friday when he released remarks branding China’s undervalued currency an “effective subsidy” for its exporters which was distorting patterns of production and trade. In what looked to be a last minute bid to avoid controversy, Mr Bernanke then dropped the phrase from his speech to the Chinese Academy of Social sciences, using the less inflammatory term “distortion” instead.

Mr Bernanke’s original text talked about “the effective subsidy that an undervalued currency provides for Chinese firms that focus on exporting rather than producing for the domestic market.” This phrase – even though not finally uttered by the Fed chief – is likely to be seized on by US manufacturers who have long pressed US government agencies to make the same determination in trade cases.

A Fed spokeswoman said Mr Bernanke’s decision to drop the word “subsidy” was “a spontaneous decision” aimed at enhancing the clarity of his remarks. She said the Fed had not been asked to drop the term by anyone in the US administration delegation in Beijing... The Fed is standing by the language of the original text, which is posted on its website...

As in the prepared text, Mr Bernanke called on China to embrace “further appreciation of the renminbi, combined with a wider trading band and with the ultimate goal of a market-determined exchange rate.” He said this would “allow an effective and independent monetary policy” that would help promote “growth and stability.”

The Fed chairman ... said that while currency appreciation would be “helpful”, the “most direct and probably the most effective way to reduce the external surpluses and increase the welfare of Chinese households” would be to reduce the incentive for households to save by improving the social safety net.

However, he insisted that a more flexible exchange rate was in China’s own national interest. ... In order for China to “enjoy the fruits of its growth” it would be necessary for the economy to shift more resources towards production for domestic consumption rather than export and investment. “To create incentives for this you are going to need real effective exchange rate adjustment,” he said.

Elsewere in his speech, Mr Bernanke warned that continued high levels of investment in industries such as steel which already showed “signs of excess capacity” suggested “capital misallocation” was currently taking place.

He said greater competition in the financial sector would result in more efficient pricing of risks and “reduce the risk that uneconomic investments could exacerbate the problem of non-performing loans.”

Mr Bernanke said this misallocation of capital – “the result of an undervalued exchange rate and of capital markets that…remain distorted and underdeveloped” – was the “principal risk” to China’s prospects, and could lead to “slower growth and future financial stress.”

Text of speech.

    Posted by on Friday, December 15, 2006 at 03:33 AM in Economics, International Trade, Monetary Policy | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (120)

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