In the aftermath of devastation that took place due to the second world war (WWII), some key global institutions were created and multilateral agreements signed to (i) avert chances of another major war; (ii) enhance global cooperation for accelerated reconstruction work; and (iii) promotion of globalization of trade and commerce to ensure equitable growth and development. Bretton Wood agreement signed in 1944 was one of such efforts.
The Bretton Woods agreement established the U.S. dollar as the reserve currency for world. The idea was to prevent competitive devaluations of currencies, avert trade wars and promote international economic cooperation for growth & development. The Bretton Wood signatories agreed to maintain fixed exchange rates between their respective currencies and the US Dollar. The US dollar in turn was pegged to the price of the gold.
Until WWI, most countries followed the gold standard for their respective currencies; which essentially meant that they promised to exchange their currencies for gold of equivalent value as per the current international prices of gold. This significantly constricted the flexibility in their monetary policy, as only a few countries had enough gold reserves to back their monetary requirements for development efforts needed in post war period. Abandoning the gold standard, they printed massive amount of money leading to hyperinflation, which eventually led to great depression and another great war.
Post WWII, most countries considered reverting to gold standard. However, since at that time, US had held more than three fourth of global gold reserves at that time, it was felt that making the gold pegged USD the reserve currency, instead of gold, would provide the necessary flexibility in monetary policy (since unlike gold, the USD supply could be flexible) to support growth and development.
The energy price led stagflation in US eventually led to the demise of Bretton Wood agreement. To get the US economy out of stagflation (no growth and high inflation) President Nixon sharply devalued the USD. Thus sharp devaluation led to a run on the US gold reserves, forcing the US to unpeg USD from gold prices and thus violating the Bretton Wood Agreement. The gold peg ended in 1971 but USD continued to remain the reserve currency of the world in absence of a viable alternative.
Last week, Kristalina Georgieva, IMF Managing Director, in her speech called for a new Bretton Wood Moment for the world (see here). Comparing the damage to the global economy caused by Covid-19 pandemic, she emphasized on the greater need for global cooperation to put the global economy back on growth path. She said, “Today we face a new Bretton Woods “moment.” A pandemic that has already cost more than a million lives. An economic calamity that will make the world economy 4.4 % smaller this year and strip an estimated $11 trillion of output by next year. And untold human desperation in the face of huge disruption and rising poverty for the first time in decades. Once again, we face two massive tasks: to fight the crisis today — and build a better tomorrow.”
She further adeed, “We face what I have called a Long Ascent for the global economy: a climb that will be difficult, uneven, uncertain—and prone to setbacks.
But it is a climb up. And we will have a chance to address some persistent problems — low productivity, slow growth, high inequalities, a looming climate crisis. We can do better than build back the pre-pandemic world – we can build forward to a world that is more resilient, sustainable, and inclusive. We must seize this new Bretton Woods moment.”
She specifically called for “Prudent macroeconomic policies and strong institutions”, “people centric policies” and “climate change” as three imperatives for the new system.
Obviously, the emphasis is on greater global cooperation, sustainability and equality. Unfortunately, a number of analysts, traders and strategists have read her comment to mean return of gold standard.
Neils Christensen, quoted some of the popular comments in his blog post (see here) highlighting how the people are misreading her comments for a BULL call on gold—
“Gold is on its way back to monetary policy in a direct way. The IMF last week confirmed they WILL NOT sell gold reserves. Now they are calling for a new Bretton Woods arrangement. WELCOME TO THE ERA OF GOLD ? — Gold Telegraph
Imf calls for a new Bretton Woods. A new gold standard. Sit tight. Evidence is piling. — Gold Ventures
IT’S OFFICIAL IMF CALLS FOR ‘A NEW BRETTON WOODS’ ‘A New Bretton Woods Moment’— Willem Middelkoop
A New Financial System Backed By Gold. It Will Never Happen You All Said Bretton Woods Was A Gold Backed Monetary System. The Best Is Yet To Come? Baba & Riddlers”
In our view, a new global order will definitely emerge out of this pandemic. The new order will address sustainability and equity issues. Gold will not be a key component of the new order. USD may retain its dominance but it shall face serious challenge from other currencies, including the digital currencies.