Here's How Reserve Currencies Have Evolved Over 120 Years
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Here’s How Reserve Currencies Have Evolved Over 120 Years

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Here’s How Reserve Currencies Have Evolved Over 120 Years

Over the last 120 years, the popularity of different reserve currencies have ebbed and flowed, reflecting the shifting fortunes of leading global economies.

For example, in the year 1900, the U.S. dollar and pound sterling made up 0% and 62% of global reserves respectively. But fast forward to 2020, and the pound now represents just 4.7% of global currency reserves, while the U.S. dollar stands at nearly 60%.

Today’s motion graphic from James Eagle looks at the year-over-year change in currency reserves as a portion of total reserves, spread across 120 years.

Currency1900192019401960198020002020
U.S. Dollar0.0%28.4%27.9%61.7%57.9%71.2%59.0%
Euro0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%17.5%18.5%21.2%
Deutsche mark14.7%4.2%0.0%0.0%12.9%0.0%0.0%
Japanese yen0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%3.9%5.8%6.0%
Pound sterling62.0%57.3%68.9%35.1%2.4%2.7%4.7%
Chinese renminbi0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%2.3%
French franc17.5%6.2%2.1%1.3%1.0%0.0%0.0%
Canadian dollar0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%2.1%
Australian dollar0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%1.8%
Swiss franc0.0%0.0%0.8%0.3%2.2%0.3%0.2%
Dutch guilder0.0%3.9%0.3%0.1%0.9%0.0%0.0%
Other5.7%0.0%0.0%1.6%1.3%1.5%2.7%

What is a Reserve Currency?

A reserve currency is a large quantity of currency held in “reserve” by monetary authorities like central banks.

Currencies are often held in reserve in preparation for investments and transactions, among other things. Our vast global trade system, which is approaching $20 trillion in value, means plenty of currencies are always needed in reserve. In fact, an estimated $5 trillion in currency swaps hands every single day.

Here are some reasons that currency reserves are held:

  • Exchange rate stability for the domestic currency
  • To ensures liquidity in times of crisis
  • To diversify central bank portfolios, which can reduce risk and improve credit ratings
    • All things equal, countries benefit economically from greater demand for their respective currencies.

      The Rise and Fall of Reserve Currencies

      Some economists argue that the demand for currencies in the long run revolves around the economic relevance of a country. In general, the larger and more powerful a nation’s economy is, the greater the network effect, and the more interlinked they are to the global economy. Thus, the greater demand there is to hold their currency in reserve.

      The last 120 years of currency reserve data shows some support for this claim. For example, Japan’s economy hit a peak in terms of its relative share of global GDP in the early 1990s, just before the effects of the Lost Decade were felt. Subsequently, their peak as a reserve currency was around the same horizon, at 9.4% in 1990.

      America’s Era of Dominance

      Due to the economic strength of the United States in the post-WWII era, the dollar is what economists call a vehicle currency.

      This means many non-dollar economies still choose to engage in international transactions using the dollar. These smaller and less accepted currencies are often converted to U.S. dollars before proceeding with any business or trade dealings. This is why, although Asian economies tend to have neighboring states as their top trade partners, they still engage in a massive portion of these transactions with the U.S. greenback as the currency of choice.

      Here are some facts that further exemplify the strength and power of the U.S. dollar:

      • More than 65 countries peg their currencies to the U.S. dollar
      • Five U.S. territories and a number of sovereign countries, such as Ecuador and Panama, use it as an official currency of exchange
      • Around 90% of all Forex trading involves the U.S. dollar
        • Additionally, the dollar is often seen as a haven in times of extreme uncertainty and tumult. Given its status as the world’s reserve currency, it can be perceived as less risky and can withstand economic shock to a greater degree relative to other currencies.

          New Challengers to the Dollar

          In the not too distant past, the U.S. displaced the UK economically and as the world’s reserve currency. Today, the U.S. economy is showing signs of slowing down, based on GDP growth.

          China is on the rise, having already displaced the U.S. as the EU’s top trade partner. With projections for China to overtake the U.S. as the world’s largest economy before 2030 in nominal terms, could a new global reserve currency emerge?

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          This article was published as a part of Visual Capitalist's Creator Program, which features data-driven visuals from some of our favorite Creators around the world.

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Interest Rate Hikes vs. Inflation Rate, by Country

Inflation rates are reaching multi-decade highs in some countries. How aggressive have central banks been with interest rate hikes?

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Interest Rate Hikes vs. Inflation Rate, by Country

Imagine today’s high inflation like a car speeding down a hill. In order to slow it down, you need to hit the brakes. In this case, the “brakes” are interest rate hikes intended to slow spending. However, some central banks are hitting the brakes faster than others.

This graphic uses data from central banks and government websites to show how policy interest rates and inflation rates have changed since the start of the year. It was inspired by a chart created by Macrobond.

How Do Interest Rate Hikes Combat Inflation?

To understand how interest rates influence inflation, we need to understand how inflation works. Inflation is the result of too much money chasing too few goods. Over the last several months, this has occurred amid a surge in demand and supply chain disruptions worsened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In an effort to combat inflation, central banks will raise their policy rate. This is the rate they charge commercial banks for loans or pay commercial banks for deposits. Commercial banks pass on a portion of these higher rates to their customers, which reduces the purchasing power of businesses and consumers. For example, it becomes more expensive to borrow money for a house or car.

Ultimately, interest rate hikes act to slow spending and encourage saving. This motivates companies to increase prices at a slower rate, or lower prices, to stimulate demand.

Rising Interest Rates and Inflation

With inflation rates hitting multi-decade highs in some countries, many central banks have announced interest rate hikes. Below, we show how the inflation rate and policy interest rate have changed for select countries and regions since January 2022. The jurisdictions are ordered from highest to lowest current inflation rate.

JurisdictionJan 2022 InflationMay 2022 InflationJan 2022 Policy RateJun 2022 Policy Rate
UK5.50%9.10%0.25%1.25%
U.S.7.50%8.60%0.00%-0.25%1.50%-1.75%
Euro Area5.10%8.10%0.00%0.00%
Canada5.10%7.70%0.25%1.50%
Sweden3.90%7.20%0.00%0.25%
New Zealand5.90%6.90%0.75%2.00%
Norway3.20%5.70%0.50%1.25%
Australia3.50%5.10%0.10%0.85%
Switzerland1.60%2.90%-0.75%-0.25%
Japan0.50%2.50%-0.10%-0.10%

The Euro area has 3 policy rates; the data above represents the main refinancing operations rate. Inflation data is as of May 2022 except for New Zealand and Australia, where the latest quarterly data is as of March 2022.

The U.S. Federal Reserve has been the most aggressive with its interest rate hikes. It has raised its policy rate by 1.5% since January, with half of that increase occurring at the June 2022 meeting. Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, said the committee would like to “do a little more front-end loading” to bring policy rates to normal levels. The action comes as the U.S. faces its highest inflation rate in 40 years.

On the other hand, the European Union is experiencing inflation of 8.1% but has not yet raised its policy rate. The European Central Bank has, however, provided clear forward guidance. It intends to raise rates by 0.25% in July, by a possibly larger increment in September, and with gradual but sustained increases thereafter. Clear forward guidance is intended to help people make spending and investment decisions, and avoid surprises that could disrupt markets.

Pacing Interest Rate Hikes

Raising interest rates is a fine balancing act. If central banks raise rates too quickly, it’s like slamming the brakes on that car speeding downhill: the economy could come to a standstill. This occurred in the U.S. in the 1980’s when the Federal Reserve, led by Chair Paul Volcker, raised the policy rate to 20%. The economy went into a recession, though the aggressive monetary policy did eventually tame double digit inflation.

However, if rates are raised too slowly, inflation could gather enough momentum that it becomes difficult to stop. The longer high price increases linger, the more future inflation expectations build. This can result in people buying more in anticipation of prices rising further, perpetuating high demand.

“There’s always a risk of going too far or not going far enough, and it’s going to be a very difficult judgment to make.” — Jerome Powell, U.S. Federal Reserve Chair

It’s worth noting that while central banks can influence demand through policy rates, this is only one side of the equation. Inflation is also being caused by supply chain issues, a problem that is more or less outside of the control of central banks.

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Mapping the Migration of the World’s Millionaires

This graphic maps out the migration of millionaires across the globe, showing the top 10 countries the ultra-rich are moving to and from.

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Mapping the Migration of the World’s Millionaires

Throughout 2022, a projected 88,000 millionaires will move to a new country, according to the latest Henley Global Citizens Report.

Which countries are these millionaires moving to, and where in the world are they coming from?

This graphic maps the migration of high net worth individuals (HNWIs)—people with a net worth of over US$1 million—showing where rich people are flocking, and where they’re fleeing.

Migration of Millionaires is Back

Before diving into the country-specific data, it’s worth taking a step back to look at overall millionaire migration trends, and how things are changing this year.

2020 saw a drastic drop in the number of millionaire migrants, as pandemic-induced lockdowns kept people from leaving their home countries—and at times, their homes in general.

But as restrictions ease and countries begin to open up their borders again, the migration of millionaires is beginning to gather steam once again:

Year# of HNWIs that migratedY-o-y change
2018108,00014%
2019110,0002%
202012,000-89%
202125,000108%
2022P88,000252%
2023P125,00042%

Below, we’ll dive into which countries are seeing the highest number of HNWI migrants, and which ones are losing the most HNWIs.

Which Countries Are Millionaires Leaving?

There are a plethora of reasons why the ultra-rich move countries. Escaping conflict is one of them, which is why it’s no surprise to see Russia and Ukraine are projected to see some of the biggest emigration numbers by the end of 2022.

Here are the top 10 countries by millionaire outflows:

CountryProjected net outflows of HNWIs (2022)% of HNWIs lost
🇷🇺​ Russia15,00015%
🇨🇳​ China10,0001%
🇮🇳​ India8,0002%
🇭🇰 Hong Kong3,0002%
​🇺🇦 Ukraine2,80042%
​🇧🇷​ Brazil2,5002%
🇬🇧​ UK1,5000%
🇲🇽​ Mexico8000%
🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia6001%
🇮🇩 Indonesia6001%

Figures rounded to the nearest 100.

While Russia is expected to see 15,000 millionaires leaving the country, Ukraine is projected to experience the highest loss in percentage terms—a whopping 42% of its HNWIs could leave the country by the end of 2022.

China could also see a big loss in its millionaire population, with a projected loss of 10,000.
According to Andrew Amoils, Head of Research at New World Wealth, this could be more damaging to the country than in previous years, since general wealth growth in China has declined recently.

Where Are The Ultra-Rich Moving?

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has become a millionaire magnet, with a projected 4,000 HNWIs flowing into the country by the end of 2022. This influx of ultra-wealthy people is partly because of the country’s accommodating immigration policies that are specially tailored to attract private wealth and international talent.

Here are the top 10 countries that saw millionaire inflows:

CountryProjected net inflows of HNWIs (2022)% of HNWI Gained
​​🇦🇪​ UAE4,0004%
🇦🇺​ Australia3,5001%
🇸🇬 Singapore2,8001%
​🇮🇱 Israel2,5002%
​​🇺🇸 USA1,5000%
​🇵🇹​ Portugal1,3002%
🇬🇷​ Greece1,2003%
🇨🇦​ Canada1,0000%
🇳🇿​ New Zealand8001%

Australia continues to attract HNWIs, coming in second behind the UAE. According to New World Wealth, approximately 80,000 millionaires have moved to the Land Down Under in the last two decades.

A few things that attract migrants to Australia are the country’s low costs of healthcare, its lack of inheritance tax, and its generally prosperous economy.

Where does this data come from?

Source: Henley Global Citizens Report 2022

Data notes: As countries reopen, and the invasion of Ukraine wears on, this will have ripple effects on where people choose to live. There are two main things to keep in mind when view the information above. 1) Individuals need to remain in a country for six months in order to be updated in the database. In many cases, it’s not yet clear where people leaving certain countries choosing to relocate. 2) In the graphic above, we’ve visualized the top 10 countries for inflows and outflows.

 

Update: This article and graphic have been updated to more clearly explain what’s being shown, and list the data source in a more prominent way. We appreciate your feedback.

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