This week crude oil fell to a four-year low, and while this is helping global growth in the foreign exchange market, it is shaking up the oil-exporting nations’ fixed exchange-rate regimes.
In countries such as Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Venezuela, and Russia, oil and gas accounts for 50% to 85% of exports. These countries have a quasi-pegged exchange-rate regime because they don’t want falling commodity prices to result in lost export revenues because of exchange rate fluctuations. But with the U.S. dollar rising as rapidly as it is right now, these countries are under increasing pressure to devalue their currencies. If they don’t, their central banks will have to keep on using up their foreign exchange reserves to sell U.S. dollars and buy up their own currencies as a defensive move.
The Russian central bank was the first to throw in the towel this week, ending its system to peg the ruble to the U.S. dollar and euro. This is because the central bank has spent over $55 billion from its reserves to shore up its currency, only for the ruble to lose 40% of its value since July. The central bank still has sufficient reserves but there was no point in throwing more money at the problem with so little to show for it.
Nigeria’s foreign exchange reserves also hit a four-month low this week, as its central bank worked to defend its currency, the naira. Nigeria has a tighter fixed-rate regime, but even so, the naira has fallen by about 6% since July and the market has already priced in a 17% devaluation of this currency after Nigeria’s presidential election in February.
Saudi Arabia, by far the largest oil exporter in the world, has had its riyal firmly pegged at 3.75 to the dollar since the 1980s. Even this rock-solid rate has recently been challenged by the market.
My View: Fixed exchange rates should reflect long-term equilibrium levels if they are to remain stable. The fact that these oil-exporting nations are struggling to maintain their peg suggests that oil prices may remain low for a longer period. But it also means that in today’s world, one country’s central bank can no longer handle the huge amount of capital flows if their currency is too overvalued.
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