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Video: How the U.S. Dollar Spread Across the World

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Video: How the U.S. Dollar Spread Across the World

The U.S. dollar is the world’s dominant reserve currency, making up about 64% of all official foreign exchange reserves.

The euro is second on the list. The euro had shown decent promise as a reserve currency up until 2009, when it peaked at 28% of global reserves. However, between the European Debt Crisis and years of anemic growth in major European countries, the currency has declined to 20% of official global reserves today.

Other currencies held as foreign reserves include British pounds (5%), Japanese yen (4%), Canadian dollars (2%), and Australian dollars (2%). Swiss francs and other currencies make up the remaining 3%.

The Chinese yuan also recently won IMF approval to make up part of its Special Drawing Rights (SDR) basket. More and more trade is in Chinese currency, and the country’s bond markets are beginning to grow and internationalize.

The yuan is not a significant player yet, but in the future it may be.

The Rise of the Dollar

History has shown that every 100 years or so, the world’s de facto reserve currency has been replaced.

The last time this happened was after World War II, when the Bretton Woods system came into effect. Under this system, the U.S. dollar was established as the global anchor currency, linked to gold at a fixed rate. The combination of post-war growth in the U.S. economy along with the official link between dollars and gold provided the international monetary system with a degree of certainty that had been missing for decades.

In 1971, Nixon severed the link between the U.S. dollar and gold, but continued U.S. economic and financial strength would keep the dollar prominent on the international monetary stage for decades to come.

What Does the Future Hold?

The video in this post, created by the team at HowMuch.net shows the evolution in acceptance of the greenback. At first, it was U.S. overseas territories such as Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands that would adopt the dollar. Later in the 20th century, major nations from China to Argentina would attempt to peg their currencies to the dollar for much-needed stability.

Will this dollar hegemony continue well into the future?

As HowMuch.net notes in its post, it is the size, stability, and liquidity of the country’s financial markets that are the major underlying factors to determine the strength of a reserve currency.

While China is now the largest economy in the world in terms of purchasing power, the financial markets of the United States still reign supreme. For example, U.S. stock markets still make up 52% of the total market capitalization of global equity markets. China’s markets are puny in comparison at around 2%.

There are signs of a shift in momentum, however.

U.S. Treasuries have less liquidity and China has been dumping them on the market. The yuan is officially part of the SDR basket in October 2016, and China could see an inflow of up to $3 trillion in renminbi assets as a result. The yuan has also now passed the yen in terms of cross-border trade volume.

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Visualized: U.S. Corporate Bankruptcies On the Rise

In 2023, over 400 companies have folded. This graphic shows how corporate bankruptcies are growing at the second-fastest rate since 2010.

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Visualized: U.S. Corporate Bankruptcies on the Rise

In March, Silicon Valley Bank collapsed, plunging its parent company SVB Financial Group into bankruptcy a week later.

While many expected a wave of bank failures to follow, much of this has since been averted—but cracks have begun to emerge with Moody’s recent downgrading of 10 small and mid-sized banks.

Across the wider corporate landscape, bankruptcies have begun to tick higher. Overstretched balance sheets coupled with 11 interest rate hikes since last year have added to mounting challenges for companies across many sectors.

This graphic shows the surge in corporate bankruptcies in 2023 based on data from S&P Global.

U.S. Corporate Bankruptcies Grow

So far in 2023, over 400 corporations have gone under. Corporate bankruptcies are rising at the fastest pace since 2010 (barring the pandemic), and are double the level seen this time last year.

Below, we show trends in corporate casualties with data as of July 31, 2023:

Year of FilingBankruptcy Filings
as of July
Annual Total
2023402N/A
2022205373
2021256408
2020407639
2019334590
2018317518
2017305520
2016354576
2015292525
2014273471
2013349558
2012362586
2011364634
2010530827

Represents public or private companies with public debt where either assets or liabilities are greater than or equal to $2 million, or private companies where assets or liabilities are greater than or equal to $10 million at time of bankruptcy.

Firms in the consumer discretionary and industrial sectors have seen the most bankruptcies, based on available data. Historically, both sectors carry significant debt on their balance sheets compared to other sectors, putting them at higher risk in a rising rate environment.

Overall, U.S. corporate interest costs have increased 22% annually compared to the first quarter of 2021. These additional costs, combined with higher wages, energy, and materials, among others, mean that companies may be under greater pressure to cut costs, restructure their debt, or in the worst case, fold.

Billion-Dollar Bankruptcies

This year, 16 companies with over $1 billion in liabilities have filed for bankruptcy. Among the most notable are retail chain Bed Bath & Beyond and the parent company of Silicon Valley Bank.

CompanyPrimary SectorDate
Party CityConsumer DiscretionaryJan 2023
Serta Simmons BeddingConsumer DiscretionaryJan 2023
AvayaInformation TechnologyFeb 2023
Diamond Sports Communication ServicesMar 2023
SVB FinancialFinancialsMar 2023
LTL ManagementN/AApr 2023
Bed Bath & BeyondConsumer DiscretionaryApr 2023
Whittaker, Clark & DanielsN/AApr 2023
MonitronicsIndustrialsMay 2023
Kidde-FenwalConsumer DiscretionaryMay 2023
Envision HealthcareHealthcareMay 2023
DieboldN/AJun 2023
Wesco AircraftIndustrialsJun 2023
PGX HoldingsIndustrialsJun 2023
CyxteraInformation TechnologyJun 2023
Voyager AviationIndustrialsJul 2023

Mattress giant Serta Simmons filed for bankruptcy early this year. It once made up nearly 20% of bedding sales in America. With a vast share of debt coming due this year, the company was unable to make payments due to higher borrowing costs.

What Comes Next?

In many ways, U.S. corporations have been resilient despite the sharp rise in borrowing costs and economic uncertainty.

This can be explained in part by stronger than anticipated profits seen in 2022. While some companies have cut costs, others have hiked prices in an inflationary environment, creating buffers for rising interest payments. Still, S&P 500 earnings have begun to slow this year, falling over 5% in the second quarter compared to last year.

Secondly, the structure of corporate debt is much different than before the global financial crash. Many companies locked in fixed-rate debt over longer periods after the crisis. Today, roughly 72% of rated U.S. corporate debt has fixed rates.

At the same time, banks are getting more creative with their lending structures when companies get into trouble. There has been a record “extend and amend” activity for certain types of corporate bonds. This debt restructuring is enabling companies to keep operating.

The bad news is that corporate debt swelled during the pandemic, and eventually this debt will come due likely at much higher costs and with more severe consequences.

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