The World’s Most Powerful Reserve Currencies
When we think of network effects, we’re usually thinking of them in the context of technology and Metcalfe’s Law.
Metcalfe’s Law states that the more users that a network has, the more valuable it is to those users. It’s a powerful idea that is exploited by companies like LinkedIn, Airbnb, or Uber — all companies that provide a more beneficial service as their networks gain more nodes.
But network effects don’t apply just to technology and related fields.
In the financial sector, for example, stock exchanges grow in utility when they have more buyers, sellers, and volume. Likewise, in international finance, a currency can become increasingly entrenched when it’s accepted, used, and trusted all over the world.
What’s a Reserve Currency?
Today’s visualization comes to us from HowMuch.net, and it breaks down foreign reserves held by countries — but what is a reserve currency, anyways?
In essence, reserve currencies (i.e. U.S. dollar, pound sterling, euro, etc.) are held on to by central banks for the following major reasons:
- To maintain a stable exchange rate for the domestic currency
- To ensure liquidity in the case of an economic or political crisis
- To provide confidence to international buyers and foreign investors
- To fulfill international obligations, such as paying down debt
- To diversify central bank portfolios, reducing overall risk
Not surprisingly, central banks benefit the most from stockpiling widely-held reserve currencies such as the U.S. dollar or the euro.
Because these currencies are accepted almost everywhere, they provide third-parties with extra confidence and perceived liquidity. This is a network effect that snowballs from the growing use of a particular reserve currency over others.
Reserve Currencies Over Time
Here is how the usage of reserve currencies has evolved over the last 15 years:
|🇺🇸 U.S. Dollar||🇪🇺 Euro||🇯🇵 Japanese Yen||🇬🇧 Pound Sterling||🌐 Other|
Over this timeframe, there have been small ups and downs in most reserve currencies.
Today, the U.S. dollar is the world’s most powerful reserve currency, making up over 61% of foreign reserves. The dollar gets an extensive network effect from its use abroad, and this translates into several advantages for the multi-trillion dollar U.S. economy.
The euro, yen, and pound sterling are the other mainstay reserve currencies, adding up to roughly 30% of foreign reserves.
Finally, the most peculiar data series above is “Other”, which grew from 2.0% to 8.4% of worldwide foreign reserves over the last 15 years. This bucket includes the Canadian dollar, the Australian dollar, the Swiss franc, and the Chinese renminbi.
There have been rumblings in the media for decades now about the rise of the Chinese renminbi as a potential new challenger on the reserve currency front.
While there are still big structural problems that will prevent this from happening as fast as some may expect, the currency is still on the rise internationally.
What will the composition of global foreign reserves look like in another 15 years?
Ranked: Top Countries for Foreign Direct Investment Flows
Take a look at changes in foreign direct investment flows over a decade, analyzing the top destinations and biggest investors.
One of the most significant phenomena in 21st-century globalization, driven by the ascent of multinational corporations and the removal of investing barriers, is the vast cross-border flow of foreign capital.
To analyze recent trends, Samidha Nayak utilized World Bank data spanning 2012–2022, charting the top 10 destinations for foreign direct investment (FDI) and the leading investing countries annually.
Countries With the Most FDI Inflows (2012–2022)
In 2012, the United States had the highest FDI inflow, attracting about $250 billion in investment from the rest of the world.
At second place, China’s FDI inflows stood about $9 billion lower at $241 billion.
The middle ranks have representatives from Europe (Netherlands, Cyprus), from Asia (Hong Kong) and from South America (Brazil).
Towards the bottom, three OECD countries—Germany, Ireland, and Australia—all attracted an average of $60 billion in foreign investment.
Unexpectedly, the British Virgin Islands came in 8th. Their lack of corporate tax makes it a popular place for companies to headquarter, in turn attracting FDI inflows.
|1||🇺🇸 U.S.||$250.35||1||🇺🇸 U.S.||$388.08|
|2||🇨🇳 China||$241.21||2||🇨🇳 China||$180.17|
|3||🇳🇱 Netherlands||$239.67||3||🇸🇬 Singapore||$140.84|
|4||🇧🇷 Brazil||$92.57||4||🇭🇰 Hong Kong||$120.95|
|5||🇭🇰 Hong Kong||$74.89||5||🇫🇷 France||$105.42|
|6||🇨🇾 Cyprus||$69.97||6||🇧🇷 Brazil||$91.50|
|7||🇩🇪 Germany||$65.44||7||🇦🇺 Australia||$67.12|
|8||🇻🇬 British Virgin Islands||$61.12||8||🇨🇦 Canada||$53.71|
|9||🇮🇪 Ireland||$58.09||9||🇸🇪 Sweden||$50.05|
|10||🇦🇺 Australia||$57.55||10||🇮🇳 India||$49.94|
Ten years later however, the top 10 saw a shuffle. The U.S. and China retained their top spots, but the difference grew much larger—with the U.S. attracting nearly 50% more foreign investment ($388 billion) than China ($180 billion).
Singapore, which first appeared in the rankings in 2014, took third place with $141 billion.
Meanwhile the bottom half changed almost entirely with France, Canada, Sweden, and India replacing Cyprus, Germany, the British Virgin Islands, and Ireland.
Countries With the Most FDI Outflows (2012–2022)
Unlike the ranks of net inflows, the top 10 countries with the highest FDI outflows have stayed essentially the same.
The U.S. topped the list in both ends of the decade, despite briefly falling out of the top 10 entirely in 2018. There were only three new entrants (France, Australia, and the UK) in 2022 compared to 10 years prior, with Cyprus, Switzerland, and the British Virgin Islands dropping out of top spots.
|1||🇺🇸 U.S.||$377.24||1||🇺🇸 U.S.||$426.25|
|2||🇳🇱 Netherlands||$237.94||2||🇩🇪 Germany||$178.87|
|3||🇯🇵 Japan||$117.63||3||🇯🇵 Japan||$175.40|
|4||🇩🇪 Germany||$99.08||4||🇬🇧 UK||$158.93|
|5||🇭🇰 Hong Kong||$88.12||5||🇨🇳 China||$149.69|
|6||🇨🇾 Cyprus||$75.25||6||🇳🇱 Netherlands||$125.89|
|7||🇨🇳 China||$64.96||7||🇦🇺 Australia||$123.36|
|8||🇨🇦 Canada||$62.25||8||🇫🇷 France||$118.76|
|9||🇨🇭Switzerland||$54.30||9||🇭🇰 Hong Kong||$106.86|
|10||🇻🇬 British Virgin Islands||$53.94||10||🇨🇦 Canada||$83.11|
Many of the countries who are in the top ranks for inflows (U.S., China, Canada, Australia) are also in the top ranks for outflows both in 2012 and 2022.
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