In the current age of globalization and increasing international trade, every country strives to have a favorable balance of payment and a stable currency in the international market. As is with any other market, a currency’s exchange rate is majorly determined by the forces of demand and supply. For stability of its exchange rate, a country might opt to purchase its currencies from the international market to reduce its supply, using its reserve assets.
Understanding Reserve Assets
In finance, reserve assets refer to foreign currencies held and controlled by a country’s central bank. The central banks are mandated to use the reserve currency as they deem fit to benefit the local economy. A reserve currency is supposed to be a universally accepted currency whose value is relatively stable over time. The US dollar is the most preferred reserve currency. Other major currencies include the Euro and GBP.
Purposes of the Reserve Assets
A country’s central bank can use the reserve assets it controls in several ways.
The reserve assets can be used to influence the exchange rate of the local currency against international currencies. Countries can do this whether their exchange rate is fixed or floating. For a fixed exchange rate, a country will peg the exchange rate of its currency against a reserve currency. Pegging the local currency against another one means that the local currency’s value will adjust at the same rate as the other currency.
In this case, when the local government wants to increase its currency value, it uses the reserve assets to buy its currency from the international market. In turn, the demand for the local currency goes up along with its value. The main goal for currency pegging is to remove inflation or changes in the interest rates from impacting the trade between two economies.
Source: St. Louis FRED
For countries whose exchange rate is floating, the central banks use the reserve assets to adjust their currencies relative to that of the reserve currency. If a country wants to weaken its currency to make its exports competitive in the international market, it will sell its currency to buy reserve assets. Conversely, if it wants to increase its currency value, it will use the reserve assets to purchase its currency from the international market.
Another function of the is to shore up the economy in case of natural or human-made disasters. In such disasters, economic activities in the country may be crippled, which significantly lowers the exports. Consequently, the foreign exchange earned in the international market. The central banks use the reserve assets to ensure there is enough liquidity of foreign currency for importation.
Furthermore, in such disasters, investors may flee the country by withdrawing from the local banks. The resultant shortage of foreign currency will reduce the value of the local currency. The central banks can use the reserve assets to buy the local currency to prevent over-inflation and keep the local currency stable.
The country’s reserve assets are also used to meet its financial obligations, such as debt repayment. When a country borrows from the international markets, the interest payments are usually demanded to be paid in the reserve currency. Debtors prefer the reserve currency since it guarantees them that their cash flow is protected from rapid inflation. Therefore, having adequate reserve assets gives investors and creditors confidence that their capital is protected.
Using the reserve assets data for analysis
There is a minimum limit of reserve assets that a country is recommended to hold. This minimum threshold is meant to ensure that in case of any economic shocks, the country can fund essential imports in the short term. Furthermore, the minimum reserves should cover all the country’s debt obligations for about a year.
Therefore, when the reserve assets held by a country are dropping, it could indicate that the economy is experiencing shocks, and the central banks have stepped in to mitigate. When these levels are continually dropping, it means that the economic shocks being experienced are not reducing.
Source: St. Louis FRED
Considering that the reserve assets increase when the balance of payments accounts is improving, a drop in the reserve assets signals that a country in exceedingly becoming a net importer. A reduction in the number of exports or a drop in the value of exports results in net imports. Either way, it implies that the country’s living standards have deteriorated, and unemployment is on the rise.
All these factors point towards a shrinking economy. Conversely, a constant increase in reserve assets implies that the country is a net exporter, which could increase the quantity of exports or quality through value addition. These two factors signal a growing economy with possibly improving labor market conditions.
Impact on Currency
Apart from the direct influence of the exchange rate by buying and selling the reserve assets, here are some of the ways changing levels of a country’s reserve assets impact its currency. Higher reserve assets levels show that the country is well prepared to deal with any unforeseen economic shocks. For investors, this is a sign of stability and encourages them to invest in the country, which leads to lower unemployment and economic growth. Thus, increasing levels of reserve assets lead to a currency’s appreciation.
Conversely, a persistent drop in the reserve assets is negative for the currency. Dropping reserve assets is an indicator that the local currency is under pressure, and the central banks are selling reserve assets to stabilize the currency. Similarly, it could mean that exports in the economy have been reducing over time. Both these instances point towards an adversely affected economy.
Sources of Data
In the US, the data on reserve assets is published monthly by the US Federal Reserve Board, while in the EU, it is published by the European Central Bank. The IMF publishes data on global reserve assets balances.
How Reserve Assets Data Release Affects Forex Price Charts
The most recent release of the EU’s reserve assets data was on September 15, 2020, at 10.00 AM GMT. The release can be accessed at Investing.com. The screengrab below is of the monthly reserve assets from Investing.com. To the right is a legend that indicates the level of impact the FI has on the EUR.
As can be seen, this low volatility is expected upon the release of the reserve assets data.
In August 2020, the EU’s total reserve assets were 915.08 billion compared to 923.07 billion in July 2020.
EUR/USD: Before the Reserve Assets Data Release on September 15, 2020, Just Before 10.00 AM GMT
Before the publication of the reserve assets data by the ECB, the EUR/USD pair was trading in a neutral trend. The 20-period MA was flattening with candles forming just around it.
EUR/USD: After the Reserve Assets Data Release on September 15, 2020, at 10.00 AM GMT
After the news release, the pair formed a 5-minute “Doji” candle. Subsequently, the pair adopted a bullish trend with candles crossing and forming above the rising 20-period MA.
The total reserve assets that a country holds is a crucial indicator of its economic health and balance of payments condition. But as can be seen in the above analyses, this indicator has no significant impact on the forex price action. We hope you found this article informative. Let us know if you have any questions in the comments below. Cheers!