Counting the Cost

Pandemic proves there is only one world reserve currency

The mighty dollar shows reserve currency dominance. Plus, India’s banking troubles and travel industry under COVID-19.

Rich nations have spent more than $9 trillion so far on tackling the economic fallout from COVID-19. And more spending is on the way as governments try to ensure there is a functioning economy post the pandemic. 

The damage done is likely to surpass the financial crisis and maybe even the Great Depression. 

It is the worst economic crisis in the last 70 years.

Now investors are rushing to safety. The 11-year bull run in US stock markets is over. And there is one safe haven everyone is banking on and it is not gold. It is the dollar. For all the talk that the dollar would lose its reserve currency status, it proved to be just that, talk.

Emerging markets have borne the brunt of the rush for dollars. Indonesia’s rupiah lost almost 14 percent of its value since the beginning of the year. The Russian rouble and Mexican peso have lost a fifth of their value.

The problem for emerging markets is that they may want to cut interest rates to stimulate economies hit by the coronavirus, but that would undermine their currencies further. And interest payments on dollar-denominated debts has just soared, unbalancing finances.

The sterling fell more than 10 percent, a level last seen in 1985. The United Kingdom’s divorce from the European Union has broken the resilience of the pound, which was considered to be tethered to the fortunes of the continent.

The best performing currency just happens to be the Argentine peso – best performing in the sense that it has fallen the least compared with other Latin American nations. The fact that it has introduced capital controls, limits to money flowing out of the country to tackle an economic crisis, has certainly helped. 

The dollar has been the world’s leading currency for more than a century. Today, more than 60 percent of all foreign bank reserves and 40 percent of all debt is held in US dollars. 

Jameel Ahmad, the global head of currency strategy and market research at FXTM, tells Al Jazeera: “The dollar not only remains the king. If this was a game of thrones, the dollar is on the dying throne, it has been on the dying throne for an extremely long time, it dominates all of the seven kingdoms under it and this has been something that has been in play for close to a century now, since war times.”

He adds: “And we are still 20-30 years away from anybody being able to say that they could challenge the dollar.”

What went wrong at India’s Yes Bank?

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, India’s financial institutions were causing concern because of their large debts.

Yes Bank, the fourth-largest lender in India, was taken over by the government this month. That is the third rescue this year.

Darren Aw, Asia economist at Capital Economics, explains that Yes Bank has faced corporate governance issues, including risky lending practices that led to a buildup of nonperforming loans and a deterioration of the bank’s position.

“India’s banking sector has its share of problems and I don’t think an issue like this would be easily eliminated,” Aw says.

How will the pandemic reshape the travel industry?

The travel and tourism industry accounted for more than 10 percent of the global economy in 2018, creating 319 million jobs globally. 

The industry was the first to face the brunt of the pandemic as travellers cancelled their bookings. The aviation industry is expected to lose more than $250bn in revenue this year, as airlines are forced to ground aircraft.

Avi Meir, chief executive of travel management startup TravelPerk, said many players in the airline industry “are looking at a total cancellation of most routes now”.

Meir adds that many companies and suppliers have to change their business model or depend on a bailout.