Benn Steil

Geo-Graphics

A graphical take on geoeconomic issues, with links to the news and expert commentary.

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China’s Exorbitant Detriment, Mirror Image of America’s Exorbitant Privilege, Is Costing It Dearly

by Benn Steil and Emma Smith

The so-called Exorbitant Privilege of the United States, the power to conjure the world’s primary reserve currency, is reflected in the unique combination of being deeply in debt to the rest of the world (that is, having a massive negative net international investment position, or NIIP) while earning far more income abroad than it pays out in interest (that is, having massive positive annual net investment income, or NII).  The U.S. NIIP averaged negative $7.5 trillion over FY15/16, while its NII was positive $167 billion, as shown in the top left of the graphic above.  Basically, foreigners are willing to accept a trivial return to hold dollar-denominated assets. Read more »

China’s Bond Market Can’t Handle a Global RMB

by Benn Steil and Emma Smith

The Chinese RMB’s ascension into the IMF’s SDR currency basket in October has been widely seen as an important first step on its path to becoming a global reserve currency.  But we would argue that the path is a very long one, and that even rivaling the euro for the number two spot may, without implausible reforms to China’s political economy, be beyond the RMB’s reach. Read more »

The Geo-Graphics Mini Mac Index Deep Fries the Big Mac Once Again

by Benn Steil and Emma Smith

The “law of one price” holds that identical goods should trade for the same price in an efficient market.  But to what extent does it actually hold internationally?

The Economist magazine’s famous Big Mac Index uses the price of McDonald’s Big Macs around the world, expressed in a common currency (U.S. dollars), to estimate the extent to which various currencies are over- or under-valued. The Big Mac is a global product, identical across borders, which makes it an interesting one for this purpose. Read more »

The World Economy is Running on Monetary Fumes

by Benn Steil and Emma Smith

With global growth stalling, the IMF is calling for more assertive policy action to boost it.  In normal times, monetary stimulus is—even for liberal Keynesians like Paul Krugman—sufficient to address deficient demand.  But these are most surely not normal times. Read more »

Could China Have a Reserves Crisis?

by Benn Steil and Emma Smith

Last summer, U.S. lawmakers were condemning China for pushing down its currency, arguing that it was still “terribly undervalued.” But those days may be long gone.  Chinese and foreigners alike have been stampeding out of RMB, leaving the Chinese central bank struggling to keep its value up and prevent a rout. Read more »

Our Mini Mac Index Flame-Broils The Economist—Yet Again

by Benn Steil and Emma Smith

The “law of one price” holds that identical goods should trade for the same price in an efficient market.  But to what extent does it actually hold internationally?

The Economist magazine’s famous Big Mac Index uses the price of McDonald’s Big Macs around the world, expressed in a common currency (U.S. dollars), to estimate the extent to which various currencies are over- or under-valued. The Big Mac is a global product, identical across borders, which makes it an interesting one for this purpose. Read more »

Are China’s RMB Swap Lines an Empty Vessel?

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker

As our recent CFR interactive shows, central bank currency swaps have spread like wildfire since the financial crisis.  In 2006, the Fed had only two open swap lines outstanding, with Canada and Mexico, for just $2 billion and $3 billion, respectively.  At its high point in 2008, the Fed had fourteen open swap lines, with as much as $583 billion drawn. Read more »

Should the United States Encourage Japan to Join the AIIB?

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker

On April 15, China’s finance ministry revealed the 57 “prospective founding members” of the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, of which China is the architect.   The likely founders include many U.S. allies, such as the UK, Australia, and South Korea, which the Obama Administration had lobbied not to join, seeing the AIIB as a Chinese alternative to the U.S.-architected World Bank. Read more »