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Fixed And Floating Exchange Rates


In a fixed exchange rate system, the government (or the central bank acting on the government's behalf) intervenes in the currency market so that the exchange rate stays close to an exchange rate target. When Britain joined the European Exchange Rate Mechanism in October 1990, we fixed sterling against other European currencies. The pound, for example, was permitted to vary against the German Mark by only 6% either side of a central target of DM2.95. Britain left the ERM in September 1992 when the pound came under sustained selling pressure, and the authorities could no longer justify very high interest rates to maintain the pound's value when the domestic economy was already suffering from a deep recession.


Since autumn 1992, Britain has adopted a floating exchange rate system. The Bank of England does not actively intervene in the currency markets to achieve a desired exchange rate level.


In contrast, the twelve members of the Single Currency agreed to fully fix their currencies against each other in January 1999. In January 2002, twelve exchange rates became one when the Euro entered common circulation throughout the Euro Zone.



1944-72: Fixed Exchange Rates

Occasional devaluations against dollar (1948 and 1967)

1972-87: Managed Floating

1987-88: Shadowing the DM (Under Chancellor Nigel Lawson)

1988-90: Managed Floating (prelude to ERM entry)

1990-92: Semi-Fixed Exchange Rates

1992-01: Floating Exchange Rate

Bank of England has not intervened in the currency markets for the last nine years meaning that Sterling has been market determined.


Types Of Exchange Rate System


With floating exchange rates, changes in market demand and market supply of a currency cause a change in its value.  Trade flows and capital flows are the main factors affecting the exchange rate.  In the long run it is the macro economic performance of the economy (including trends in competitiveness) that drives the value of the currency (see later notes).


No pre-determined official target for the exchange rate is set by the Government. The government and/or monetary authorities can set interest rates for domestic economic purposes rather than to achieve a given exchange rate target.  It is rare for pure free floating exchange rates to exist - most governments at one time or another seek to "manage" the value of their currency through changes in interest rates and other controls


UK sterling has floated on the foreign exchange markets since the UK suspended membership of the ERM in September 1992



Value of the pound determined by market demand and supply of the currency with no pre-determined target for the exchange rate is set by the Government.  Governments normally engage in managed floating if not part of a fixed exchange rate system.  Policy pursued from 1973-90 and since the ERM suspension from 1993-1998



Exchange rate is given a specific target.  Currency can move between permitted bands of fluctuation.  Exchange rate is dominant target of economic policy-making (interest rates are set to meet the target).  Bank of England may have to intervene to maintain the value of the currency within the set targets.  Re-valuations possible but seen as last resort.  October 1990 - September 1992 during period of ERM membership



Commitment to a single fixed exchange rate.  No permitted fluctuations from the central rate.  Achieves exchange rate stability but perhaps at the expense of domestic economic stability.  Bretton-Woods System 1944-1972 where currencies were tied to the US dollar.  Gold Standard in the inter-war years - currencies linked with gold.  Countries joining EMU in 1999 . fixed their exchange rates until the Euro was introduced in January  2002.


Advantages Of Floating Exchange Rates

 Fluctuations in the exchange rate can provide an automatic adjustment for countries with a large balance of payments deficit. If an economy has a large deficit, there is a net outflow of currency from the country. This puts downward pressure on the exchange rate and if a depreciation occurs, the relative price of exports in overseas markets falls (making exports more competitive) whilst the relative price of imports in the home markets goes up (making imports appear more expensive).


This should help reduce the overall deficit in the balance of trade provided that the price elasticity of demand for exports and the price elasticity of demand for imports is sufficiently high.


A second key advantage of floating exchange rates is that it gives the government / monetary authorities flexibility in determining interest rates. This is because interest rates do not have to be set to keep the value of the exchange rate within pre-determined bands.


For example when the UK came out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism in September 1992, this allowed a sharp cut in interest rates which helped to drag the economy out of a prolonged recession.


Advantages Of Fixed Exchange Rates

Fixed rates provide greater certainty for exporters and importers and under normally circumstances there is less speculative activity - although this depends on whether the dealers in the foreign exchange markets regard a given fixed exchange rate as appropriate and credible. Sterling came under intensive speculative attack in the autumn of 1992 because the markets perceived it to be overvalued and ripe for a devaluation.


Fixed exchange rates can exert a strong discipline on domestic firms and employees to keep their costs under control in order to remain competitive in international markets. This helps the government maintain low inflation - which in the long run should bring interest rates down and stimulate increased trade and investment.


Countries With Different Exchange Rate Regimes

Countries with fixed exchange rates often impose tight controls on capital flows to and from their economy. This helps the government or the central bank to limit inflows and outflows of currency that might destabilise the fixed exchange rate target,


The Chinese Renminbi is essentially fixed at 8.28 renminbi to the US dollar. Currency transactions involving trade in goods and services are allowed full currency convertibility. But capital account transactions are tightly controlled by the State Administration of Foreign Exchange.


The Hungarians have a semi-fixed exchange rate against the Euro with the Forint allowed to move 2.5% above and below a central rate against the Euro. The Hungarian central bank must give permission for overseas portfolio investments on a case by case basis.


The Russian rouble is in a managed floating system but there is a 1% tax on purchases of hard currency. In contrast, the Argentinean peso was pegged to the US dollar at parity ($1 = 1 peso) and international trade transactions (involving current and capital flows) were not subject to stringent government or central bank control (recent devaluation means parity no longer occurs).

Further Reading

Argentina to scrap link with dollar (Telegraph 16.1.02)
China backs Euro at Dollar's expense (bbc 7.1.02)
Q&A Argentina's economic crisis (bbc 7.1.02)
Argentina's fight against devaluation (bbc 7.1.02)
IMF sees more pain for Argentina (bbc 7.1.02)
Sri Lanka Rupee floats down



E-mail Steve Margetts