Monday, November 5, 2007

The Reasons Why The Middle Eastern Gulf States May De-Peg From the Dollar

There is a rationale for the Middle Eastern Gulf States to de-peg from the dollar. As is seen in other parts of the world, the US may be struggling with a variety of economic ills, but other countries are doing fine. The current housing crisis ultimately is weakening the dollar. It is good to be reminded of the far reaching effects of rate cuts. Text in bold is my emphasis. From the WSJ:

Oil-rich Arab sheikdoms, risking new inflation pressure, followed the U.S. Federal Reserve's lead by lowering official interest rates to keep their currencies aligned with the dollar.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain followed the Fed's decision to cut interest rates by a quarter percentage point.

Because their exchange rates are pegged to the dollar in fixed trading ranges, monetary policy in the Persian Gulf states must mirror U.S. moves to avoid pressures from capital drifting to the currency with the most favorable interest rates.

The moves came despite concerns over rampant inflation in the region, which suggest central banks should be raising, instead of lowering, rates. Bankers said the policy conflict is building pressure on the Gulf states to unbind from the dollar. . . .

. . . . Nowhere in the Middle East are the strains more acute than in the U.A.E., where investors are betting on a "depegging" of the dirham as domestic inflation pressures increase.

"Speculators are definitely bidding on a depegging, and that's why they're increasing their dirham deposits," Henry Azzam, Middle East chief executive at Deutsche Bank AG, told Zawya Dow Jones Newswires in an interview.

Attracting that money are chances of a quick profit once the peg snaps. Deposits held in the emirates' banks have exceeded one trillion dirhams ($272.3 billion) for the first time, more than is deposited in the region's largest economy, Saudi Arabia, latest central-bank figures show.

"The probability of depegging has increased," said Kamran Butt, Dubai-based chief economist at Credit Suisse Group. "The market consensus is for the U.A.E. to depeg." A decision by the U.A.E. to sever ties with the dollar could alienate the U.S. and add to the dollar's woes at a time of economic uncertainty and record oil prices.

The dollar's slump has pushed up the cost of imports to the Gulf, fueling inflation. The dollar's decline has watered down the benefit of record oil prices in the region that is expected to accrue a surplus in excess of $500 billion this year, according to Saudi lender Samba Financial Group.

Kuwait, the region's third-largest Arab oil producer, was the first to break ranks with its Gulf peers in May when it shunned its peg with the dollar by allowing the dinar to float against a basket of currencies and in a range against the dollar. It retains a loose dollar peg and joined other states in cutting rates yesterday.

With inflation expected to exceed 10% for a second consecutive year in the U.A.E., the emirates' ruling sheiks face the region's greatest fiscal policy challenge since the U.K. devalued sterling in 1967, forcing Gulf states to turn to the dollar as a benchmark.

When the emirates created the dirham in 1973 they linked it effectively to the dollar. Now bankers such as Deutsche's Mr. Azzam are unsure whether the U.A.E. is ready for another such change. "I don't think a depeg will happen because that's a regional decision and it has served the U.A.E. so far," he said.

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