October 23, 2017, 3:51 pm
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The Fed and the falling peso

The United States Federal Reserve (the Fed) is the equivalent of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas ( BSP) Monetary Board where it is the primary regulatory authority for American banks and financial institutions. As both a bank regulator and the foremost economic policy making body in a free market economy it has perhaps the most influence in crafting US macroeconomic policies. 

The Fed meets regularly. In those meetings one of the most anticipated topics that the American public and the world at large anxiously await is the matter of interest rates. These are so termed policy rates because they not only have systemic impacts on the rates charged on debt as well as those paid on deposit liabilities but also because these are critical determinants of an economy’s currency.

While the value of a currency results from a number of other factors, one of the most important is the interest rates determined during those meetings.  There indeed are other determinants however. One is the volume of trade between the American economy and a trading partner such as the Philippines, including the balance of payments that result from that relationship, the debts incurred in the trade and others, each coming together to create values based on the bilateral exchange.

Another determinant is money supply, whether in cash or other forms, and whether these are kept inside bank vaults, in circulation, a combination of both or inclusive of other variants like checks, drafts, even novel forms that substitute as media of exchange.

And then there is the value of money based on that crusted law of economics every college sophomore knows by heart -- the law of supply and demand. Money after all is a commodity just like pork bellies and beans. It is tradable. It can be hoarded. And there are circumstances under which it is demanded more than at any other time.

Note how the law of supply and demand influences the value of the peso during an election year when money supply increases should the mint print out more and the resulting supply circulates to fund campaign materials, posters, even vote buying. Election periods witness a rise in inflation where the peso falls as its supply increases.

Most of these determinants are locally confined. This is not the case with the US dollar, the decisions of the Fed and the impact of both on our side of the Pacific.

Recently the Fed had met amid the highest spike in the American manufacturing index in the last 13 years. Never mind that most of those 13 years saw downshifted outputs, ironically during wars aggressively fought despite increasingly aging and depleted military hardware. Not only had the war machine practically jammed under the Obama administration but both jobs and remnant manufacturing migrated outside the Union. 

In contrast, in the few months since the Trump presidency took office inbound foreign direct investments (FDI) increased, manufacturing churned back on and domestic employment ramped up exponentially.

The foregoing helps us to understand what economic conditions underlie and preempt interest rate deliberations that found the dollar’s value.

In considering rate policies the Fed looks at several economic indices that indicate domestic capacities to absorb increased rates. Among the bellwether indices are productivity, employment and the manufacturing index. 

FDI flowing to the United States in the second quarter of 2017 under the Trump presidency had increased by as much as US$ 46,200 million -- double  the average FDI increase of US$ 23,860 million from 1994 to 2017.

For productivity, surpassing expectations, the US gross domestic productivity (GDP), expanded on an annualized basis by 3.1 percent
 its strongest since 2015.

As of the middle of the year the US unemployment rate had fallen to 4.1 percent the lowest in 10 to 16 sixteen years. Not only are jobs catalysts for the strengthening of the dollar but these reflect the financial resilience of the American worker in coping with increased debt costs following rate hikes.

Finally, as previously mentioned, the US manufacturing index  hit a 13-year high at 60.8. When these set of economic indices chorus, the music produced is a song of praise as investments flow in or return home as Americans troop back to work, and their jobs, specifically in the manufacturing sector, produce unprecedented growth.

These conditions compel the Fed to raise rates before the year ends regardless of further adjustments. A rate hike is a virtual certainty this December pushing the peso lower somewhere around $1: P52. Elliot Wave forecasters see it weakening further in the medium term.

These do not augur well for the Filipino public, courtesy of a rubber-stamp congress, likely to be hit hard by higher excise and value-added taxes in 2018 as a stronger dollar weakens an already fallen peso and aggregate prices rise, while investment capital flies to the US where higher interest rates yield higher returns.
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