G-20 fails to halt currency wars

Conditions set for currency wars

But the major challenge for Japan, and increasingly for western countries, is ageing populations. Japan is ahead of the West in this regard with nearly a quarter of its 128 million citizens over the age of 65 and by 2060 that is forecast to rise to 40% with the population shrinking to 87 million people. No doubt this is one reason why Japan leads the world in automation and robotics as it tries to replace its shrinking workforce – the country's preferred alternative to immigration.

Older people and especially retirees tend to spend less than their younger counterparts. Accounting for the fact that household consumption makes up 60% of Japan's GDP and it is clear that exports are the only real short- to medium-term driver left for boosting its economy. The problem with an exporting strategy is that nearly all developed countries face demographic decline  including China, Russia and even South Korea and Taiwan. It is a situation unprecedented in human history.

It is highly unlikely that another spending spree on infrastructure projects and more money creation is going to compensate for, let alone reverse, the structural decline in household consumption in Japan and other countries. The risk is that if Japan were to succeed in stimulating inflation it may actually slow its economy even more if consumers see their spending power eroded. 

History suggests that global currency wars end badly and with good reason as they are a zero sum game. The one in the 1930s led to trade protectionism and made the great depression worse and the second one during the 1960-1980s helped fuel bursts of high inflation in the 1970s.

The aftermath of a severe banking crisis and the growth-draining nature of demographic decline  sets the perfect conditions for currency wars and beggar thy neighbour policies. Until those influences are more clearly acknowledged by policy makers the temptation for currency devaluations will persist.

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About the Author
Justin Pugsley

Justin Pugsley is the forex and gold markets analyst for New Zealand-based trading platform provider MahiFX. He is a keen student of markets, economics and history. Prior to working with MahiFX, Justin worked for a number of leading media organisations such as Thomson-Reuters and Dow Jones/Wall Street Journal.

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