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Reserve currency

trade by the Dutch East India Company.[5] However, the

development of the modern concept of a reserve currency
took place in the mid nineteenth century, with the introduction of national central banks and treasuries and an
increasingly integrated global economy. By the 1860s,
most industrialised countries had followed the lead of the
United Kingdom and put their currency on to the gold
standard. At that point the UK was the primary exporter
of manufactured goods and services and over 60% of
world trade was invoiced in pound sterling. British banks
were also expanding overseas, London was the world centre for insurance and commodity markets and British capital was the leading source of foreign investment around
the world; sterling soon became the standard currency
used for international commercial transactions.[6]

A reserve currency (or anchor currency) is a currency

that is held in signicant quantities by governments and
institutions as part of their foreign exchange reserves.
The reserve currency is commonly used in international
transactions and often considered a hard currency or safehaven currency. People who live in a country that issues a
reserve currency can purchase imports and borrow across
borders more cheaply than people in other nations because they don't need to exchange their currency to do
By the end of the 20th century, the United States dollar was considered the worlds most dominant reserve
currency,[1] and the worlds need for dollars has allowed
the United States government as well as Americans to
borrow at lower costs, granting them an advantage in excess of $100 billion per year.[2] However, the U.S. dollars
status as a reserve currency, by increasing in value, hurts
U.S. exporters.[3]


As emphasised by the economist Avinash Persaud, reserve currencies come and go. International currencies in the past have included the Chinese Liang and
Greek drachma, coined in the fth century B.C., the silver
punch-marked coins of fourth century India, the Roman
denari, the Byzantine solidus and Islamic dinar of the
middle-ages, the Venetian ducato of the Renaissance, the
seventeenth century Dutch guilder and of course, more
recently, sterling and the dollar.[4]

John Maynard Keynes (right) and Harry Dexter White helped

to draft the provisions of the post-war nancial system. Here,
they meet at the inaugural meeting of the International Monetary
Fund, 1946.

Attempts were made in the interwar period to restore the

Under the gold standard, the predominant global nancial sys- gold standard. The British Gold Standard Act reintro[7]
tem from 1870 to 1914, paper notes were convertible into preset, duced the gold bullion standard in 1925, followed by
many other countries. This led to relative stability, folxed quantities of gold.
lowed by deation, but due to the onset of the Great DeThe Dutch Guilder emerged as a de facto world currency pression and other factors, global trade greatly declined
in the 18th century due to unprecedented domination of and the gold standard fell. Speculative attacks on the

pound forced Britain entirely o the gold standard in

1931.[8][9] By the mid 1930s, many governments introduced taris and autarkic policies and the pound sterling
lost its dominance as a reserve currency.[10]


currencies did share the status as primary reserve currencies. Although the British Sterling was the largest currency, both the French franc and the German mark shared
large portions of the market until the First World War,
after which the mark was replaced by the dollar. Since
the Second World War, the dollar has dominated ocial
reserves, but this is likely a reection of the unusual domination of the American economy during this period, as
well as ocial discouragement of reserve status from the
potential rivals, Germany and Japan.

After World War II, the international nancial system

was governed by a formal agreement, the Bretton Woods
System. Under this system the United States dollar was
placed deliberately as the anchor of the system, with
the US government guaranteeing other central banks that
they could sell their US dollar reserves at a xed rate for
The top reserve currency is generally selected by the
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the system suered banking community for the strength and stability of the
setbacks ostensibly due to problems pointed out by the economy in which it is used. Thus, as a currency beTrin dilemma, i.e. the conict of economic interests comes less stable, or its economy becomes less dominant,
that arises between short-term domestic objectives and bankers may over time abandon it for a currency issued by
long-term international objectives when a national cur- a larger or more stable economy. This can take a relatively
long time, as recognition is important in determining a
rency also serves as a world reserve currency.
reserve currency. For example, it took many years after
the United States overtook the United Kingdom as the
worlds largest economy before the dollar overtook Ster2 Global currency reserves
ling as the dominant global reserve currency.[19] Schenk
has shown in her 2009 study that in 1944 (Bretton Woods)
Thus the following table is a limited view about the global the US dollar was chosen as the world reference curcurrency reserves that only deals with allocated reserves: rency whereas it was only the second currency in global
The percental composition of currencies of ocial
The G8 also frequently issues public statements as to
foreign exchange reserves since 1995[15][16][17] :
exchange rates. In the past due to the Plaza Accord, its
predecessor bodies could directly manipulate rates to reverse large trade decits.

4 Major reserve currencies


Economists debate whether a single reserve currency will

always dominate the global economy.[18] Many have recently argued that one currency will almost always dominate due to network externalities, especially in the eld
of invoicing trade and denominating foreign debt securities, meaning that there are strong incentives to conform
to the choice that dominates the marketplace. The argument is that, in the absence of suciently large shocks,
a currency that dominates the marketplace will not lose
much ground to challengers.
However, some economists, such as Barry Eichengreen
argue that this is not as true when it comes to the denomination of ocial reserves because the network externalities are not strong. As long as the currencys market is
suciently liquid, the benets of reserve diversication
are strong, as it insures against large capital losses. The
implication is that the world may well soon begin to move
away from a nancial system dominated uniquely by the
US dollar. In the rst half of the 20th century multiple

Distribution of global reserve currencies

4.1 United States dollar

Main article: United States dollar
The United States dollar is the most widely held cur-

rency in the Allocated Reserves today. Throughout the
last decade, an average of two thirds of the total Allocated foreign exchange reserves of countries have been
in US dollars. For this reason, the US dollar is said to
have reserve-currency status, making it somewhat easier for the United States to run higher trade decits with
greatly postponed economic impact or even postponing
a currency crisis. Central bank reserves held in dollardenominated debt, however, are small compared to private holdings of such debt. In the event that non-United
States holders of dollar-denominated assets decided to
shift holdings to assets denominated in other currencies,
there could be serious consequences for the US economy.
Changes of this kind are rare, and typically change takes
place gradually over time; the markets involved adjust

said in September 2007 that the euro could replace the

U.S. dollar as the worlds primary reserve currency. It was
absolutely conceivable that the euro will replace the US
dollar as reserve currency, or will be traded as an equally
important reserve currency.[30] Econometric analysis by
Jerey Frankel and Menzie Chinn in 2006 suggested that
the euro could replace the U.S. dollar as the major reserve currency by 2020 if either the remaining EU members, including the UK and Denmark, adopted the euro
by 2020, or the recent depreciation trend of the dollar
persisted into the future.[31][32] In recent years, the euros
share of the worldwide currency reserve basket has continued to increasealbeit at a slower rate than before
the beginning of the worldwide credit crunch related recession and Eurozone crisis, which harmed the euro and
slowed its adoption.[33] Since 2009, the reserve currency
has continued to drop, down to 23.9 perHowever, the dollar remains the favorite reserve cur- use of the euro
rency because it has stability along with assets such as
United States Treasury security that have both scale and
US dollar dominant position in global reserves is very
much challenged currently, because of the growing share
of unallocated reserves, and because of the doubt regarding dollar stability in the long term.[21][22][23][24][25] However, in the aftermath of the nancial crisis, the dollars
share in the worlds foreign-exchange trades rose slightly
from 85% in 2010 to 87% in 2013.[26]
The dollars role as the undisputed reserve currency of the
world allows the United States to impose unilateral sanctions against actions performed between other countries,
for example the American ne against BNP Paribas for
violations of U.S. sanctions that were not laws of France
or the other countries involved in the transactions.[27]
In 2014 Beijing and Moscow signed a 150 billion yuan
central bank liquidity swap line agreement to get around
American sanctions on their behaviors.[28]

5 Other reserve currencies

5.1 Pound sterling

The United Kingdoms pound sterling was the primary

reserve currency of much of the world in the 19th century and rst half of the 20th century.[19] The emergence
of the USA as an economic superpower, and the establishment of the U.S. Federal Reserve System in 1913,[35]
and U.S. economic dominance from the second half of
the 20th century onward, as well as economic weakness
in the UK at various times during the second half of the
20th century, resulted in Sterling losing its status as the
worlds most important reserve currency: in the 1950s
55% of global reserves were still held in sterling; but the
share was 10% lower within 20 years.[19][36]

Between mid-2006 and 2011 as well as in 2013 (but not

since) it was the third most widely held reserve currency,
having seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years,
4.2 Euro
growing from about 2.5% to around 4% of all currency
reserves.[37] Analysts said this resurgence was caused by
Further information: International status and usage of
carry-trade investors considering the pound as a stable
the euro
high-yield proxy to the euro, and by the position of London in world nancial aairs.[38]
The euro is currently the second most commonly held reserve currency, comprising about a quarter of allocated
holdings. After World War II and the rebuilding of the 5.2 Japanese yen
German economy, the German Deutsche Mark gained
the status of the second most important reserve currency Japans yen is part of the International Monetary Fund's
after the US dollar. When the euro was launched on 1 (IMF) special drawing rights (SDR) valuation. The SDR
January 1999, replacing the Mark, French franc and ten currency value is determined daily by the IMF, based on
other European currencies, it inherited the status of a ma- the exchange rates of the currencies making up the basket,
jor reserve currency from the Mark. Since then, its con- as quoted at noon at the London market. The valuation
tribution to ocial reserves has risen continually as banks basket is reviewed and adjusted every ve years.[39]
seek to diversify their reserves, and trade in the eurozone The SDR Values and yen conversion for government procontinues to expand.[29]
curement are used by the Japan External Trade OrgaFormer U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan nization for Japans ocial procurement in international



Swiss franc

The Swiss franc, despite gaining ground among the

worlds foreign-currency reserves[41] and being often used
in denominating foreign loans,[42] cannot be considered as
a world reserve currency, since the share of all foreign exchange reserves held in Swiss francs has historically been
well below 0.5%. The daily trading market turnover of
the franc however, ranked fth, or about 3.4%, among all
currencies in a 2007 survey by the Bank for International


Canadian dollar

A number of central banks (and commercial banks) keep

Canadian dollars as a reserve currency. In the economy of the Americas, the Canadian dollar plays a similar role to that played by the Australian dollar (AUD)
in the Asia-Pacic region. The Canadian dollar (as a
regional reserve currency for banking) has been an important part of the British, French and Dutch Caribbean
states economies and nance systems since the 1950s.[44]
The Canadian dollar is also held by many central banks in
Central America and South America. It is held in Latin
America because of remittances and international trade
in the region.[44]
Canadian economists primarily dene and value the
Canadian dollar in terms of the United States dollar, and
thus by observing how the Canadian dollar oats in terms
of the US dollar, foreign-exchange economists can indirectly observe internal behaviours and patterns in the
US economy that could not be seen by direct observation
(Canadas primary foreign-trade relationship is with the
United States). Also, considered a petrodollar, the Canadian dollar has only fully evolved into a global reserve
currency since the 1970s when it was oated against all
other world currencies.
The Canadian dollar, since 2013, is ranked 5th among
foreign currency reserves in the world.[45]

Calls for an alternative reserve


A report released by the United Nations Conference on

Trade and Development in 2010, called for abandoning the U.S. dollar as the single major reserve currency.
The report states that the new reserve system should not
be based on a single currency or even multiple national
currencies but instead permit the emission of international liquidity to create a more stable global nancial


Countries such as Russia and the Peoples Republic of
China, central banks, and economic analysts and groups,
such as the Gulf Cooperation Council, have expressed
a desire to see an independent new currency replace the
dollar as the reserve currency.
On 10 July 2009, Russian Prime Minister (then President) Medvedev proposed a new 'world currency' at the
G8 meeting in London as an alternative reserve currency
to replace the dollar.[49]
According to economist Michael Hudson, China has said,
we don't want to make any more foreign exchange reserve of any paper currency, because all the paper currencies are government debt currencies. China, Russia,
India, Turkey, Brazil, Venezuela and oil-producing countries have recently agreed to transact all of their mutual
trade and investment in their own currencies eectively
minimizing the need, at least in the short term, for a global
reserve currency.[50] Nevertheless, at the beginning of the
21st century, gold and crude oil were still priced in dollars, which helps export ination and has brought complaints about OPECs policies of managing oil quotas to
maintain dollar price stability.[51]

6.1 Special drawing rights

Some have proposed the use of the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) special drawing rights (SDRs) as a
China has proposed using SDRs, calculated daily from
a basket of U.S. dollar, euro, Japanese yen and British
pounds, for international payments.[52]
On 3 September 2009, the United Nations Conference on
Trade and Development (UNCTAD) issued a report calling for a new reserve currency based on the SDR, managed by a new global reserve bank.[53] The IMF released
a report in February 2011, stating that using SDRs could
help stabilize the global nancial system.[54]

6.2 Chinese yuan

Main article: Internationalization of the renminbi
The Chinese yuan or renminbi (RMB) cannot be used
as a reserve currency as long as the Chinese government maintains capital controls on the conversion of its
currency.[55] Holding the currency would not be attractive to central banks unless China develops a strong open
bond market.[56] The Bank for International Settlements
estimates that in 2010 around 0.9% of all currency market transactions were carried out in renminbi.[57]
Former Chinese President Hu Jintao said that it would
be a long process before the yuan would be accepted
as a global currency.[58] However China has taken modest steps in this direction with currency-swap agreements

with a few western Pacic nations.[59] Given Chinas eco- [10] The History Of The Worlds Reserve Currency: From
Ancient Greece To Today. Retrieved 17 December
nomic power and trade balance it is expected that the re2012.
mindi will soon be a global reserve currency.[60]

See also
Commodity currency
Exorbitant privilege
Floating currency
Foreign exchange reserves
Fiat currency
Hard currency
Special drawing rights
Trin dilemma
World currency


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[23] Central


[24] Why

Euro, Japanese yen, and pound sterling). The SDR currency value is calculated daily (except on IMF holidays or
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[50] World Tired of Paying Bill for US Military. 27 December 2010.
[51] Burleigh, Marc. OPEC leaves oil quotas unchanged, seeing economic 'risks. AFP, 11 December 2010.
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Further reading
Prasad, Eswar S. (2014). The Dollar Trap: How the
U.S. Dollar Tightened Its Grip on Global Finance.
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN




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