The renminbi has formally been included as a global reserve currency. A week ago, the Chinese currency was added to the four others — U.S. dollar, euro, yen and sterling — that back the International Monetary Fund’s special drawing rights. Rather bizarrely, its SDR inclusion left the renminbi unexpectedly weaker.
Although the IMF’s move will create demand for the Chinese currency from institutions that use SDRs as a unit of account, the amount — an estimated US$30 billion — is neither large enough nor urgent enough (the buying will take months) to move the market. Instead, the “offshore” renminbi drifted to its lowest level in more than two months as investors bet that China would relax its grip on the currency now that SDR inclusion has confirmed its status in the world.
In the corporate world, the value of IPOs has fallen by about one-third this year compared with the same period of 2015. According to data from Dealogic, the total value of stock sold via new listings is at its lowest level since 2009. Volumes have fallen by almost 45% in both the U.S. and Europe, and by 60% in the U.K.
With equity finance at a low ebb, global debt has reached unprecedented levels. The IMF warned last week that the world is now a record US$152 trillion in the red, a figure which equates to more than twice the size of the global economy. In its Fiscal Monitor, the IMF highlights the apparent paradox between ultra-low interest rates to encourage borrowing to boost economic growth, and the dangers that arise from the resultant excessive level of debt.
Two-thirds of global debt is held by the private sector, and the IMF advises that this is “excessive” and a “major headwind” against global recovery. Levels of borrowing have outpaced growth in recent years, rising from 200% of global GDP in 2002 to 225% last year.
In the U.K., the government announced that it will trigger Article 50, the mechanism to leave the European Union, by the end of March 2017. The country’s sovereign bond prices tumbled as investors feared a “hard landing” in exit negotiations and an escalation in government spending. Markets were also rattled by the Prime Minister Theresa May criticizing the capitalist elite and calling for an end to “easy” monetary policy.
Despite the prospect of higher domestic interest rates, sterling fell to a five-year low against the euro last week and touched a 31-year low against the U.S. dollar. The U.K. currency is now at its lowest level ever against a basket of trade-weighted currencies, having fallen 14% against these currencies since the Brexit vote and by over one-third over the past decade.
To add insult to injury, the U.K. economy has fallen below France in the ranking of economic powers, as measured at market exchange rates. The U.K. is now the world’s sixth-largest economy after the U.S., China, Japan, Germany and France.
With the dollar stronger as expectations strengthened of a rise in U.S. interest rates, gold prices tumbled below US$1,260/oz at the end of the week. Measured in the weakening sterling, however, the metal has remained at a still-precious £1,000 an ounce.