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UNIQA Capital Markets Weekly

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Equilibrium exchange rates and currency imbalances in CEE

  • Real exchange rates in CEE have appreciated strongly in the pre-crisis period, though, have mainly stagnated since then
  • Currency undervaluation has been used as an unconventional monetary policy measure in the Czech Republic
  • An estimate of the equilibrium real exchange rate shows that undervaluation was around 4 %
  • Any currency misalignments have been closed and the current economic outlook points towards a real appreciation until 2020

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Equilibrium exchange rates and currency imbalances in CEE

  • Real exchange rates in CEE have appreciated strongly in the pre-crisis period, though, have mainly stagnated since then
  • Currency undervaluation has been used as an unconventional monetary policy measure in the Czech Republic
  • An estimate of the equilibrium real exchange rate shows that undervaluation was around 4 %
  • Any currency misalignments have been closed and the current economic outlook points towards a real appreciation until 2020


Exchange rates have caught considerable attention in 2018, both in emerging markets as well as advanced economies. The Euro (EUR) has depreciated to the US Dollar (USD) by about 5 % since the beginning of the year (5.2 %, YTD). More volatility occurred in emerging markets led by a fall in the Argentine Peso (-51 % to the USD, -48 % to the EUR) and the Turkish Lira (-29 % to the USD, -25 % to the EUR). So far, contagion effects to emerging markets with more solid fundamentals, such as Central European (CE) economies, have been rather limited. The Hungarian Forint (HUF) has depreciated by 3.8 % to the EUR, the Polish Zloty (PLN) by 2.3 % and the Czech Koruna (CZK) by 1.3 % (YTD).

The Central European non-Eurozone economies adopted a flexible exchange rate regime and inflation targeting framework in the late 1990s and early 2000s (CZ: 1997, PL: 1998, HU: 2001). Since then exchange rates have been determined by the interaction between supply and demand and are subject to market volatility. The flexible exchange rate regime provides the central banks of the region with the opportunity to align monetary conditions to the economy’s needs, supporting balanced growth.  Currently, monetary conditions are rather loose, meaning that monetary policy is set in such a way to support growth. Together with interest rates, the exchange rate determines an economy’s monetary conditions. Conventional monetary policy, however, only sets short-term nominal interest rates.

Monetary conditions need to be assessed not in nominal but in real terms. With respect to exchange rates this implies that changes in relative prices need to be considered. The concept of real effective exchange rates (REER) is used to evaluate an economy’s price and cost competitiveness. If the REER depreciates, exports become cheaper while imports become more expansive, indicating a gain in competitiveness. Computing REER for the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland (Figure 1 - see pdf) shows that all three economies followed a real appreciation trend until the early 2000s. Since then, the Polish REER has broadly stagnated while REERs in the Czech Republic and Hungary appreciated further until the start of the Great Recession.  The trend appreciation of real exchange rates seems to have paused in non-Eurozone Central European economies since then.

In order to assess monetary conditions as being accommodative or restrictive, reference rates are needed. These need to be in line with medium-term macroeconomic fundamentals and are referred to as equilibrium values. With respect to the interest rate component of monetary conditions, the so-called natural rate of interest, or r-star, has become a widely used concept.  With respect to the exchange rate component, equilibrium exchange rates have been applied to evaluate real exchange rate misalignments. In the medium run real exchange rates should move in the direction of their equilibrium, thereby annulling any currency misalignments. However, depending on the extent of nominal or structural rigidities this adjustment process can be rather slow and currency misalignments can prevail for an extended period. Currency misalignments can be linked to economic performance. Overvalued currencies can be associated with macroeconomic instability, unsustainable current account deficits and the risk of speculative attacks, while undervaluation rather facilitate growth.

A recent example in using exchange rate undervaluation to stimulate economic growth and inflation is the Czech Republic. As a form of unconventional monetary policy, the Czech National Bank (CNB) announced an exchange rate commitment on the 7th of November 2013 stating that it would not allow the Koruna to appreciate below 27 EURCZK. The CNB managed to successfully defend the exchange rate commitment until it ended on the 6th of April 2017 (Figure 2 - see pdf). Besides the growth in external demand and the end of restrictive domestic fiscal policy, the weaker currency contributed to the economic recovery and a gradual rise in inflation.

Since the end of the exchange rate commitment, the Czech Republic has become the most advanced economy in Europe regarding monetary policy normalization. The CNB raised its key monetary policy rate two times in 2017 and five times in 2018. The development of the exchange rate has played a vital role for the path of interest rates. In contrast to the central bank’s projection of a gradual appreciation, the Koruna started to depreciate in Q2 2018. The loosening effect of the Koruna depreciation on monetary conditions and the strong growth momentum of the Czech economy led the CNB to accelerate its interest rate hiking cycle. Over the medium-term, however, the CNB projects the Koruna to appreciate being “driven by a distinctly positive interest rate differential vis-à-vis the Euro Area and continued real economic convergence connected with growing labor efficiency.” 

The development of the equilibrium exchange rate can, therefore, be identified as a crucial aspect of monetary conditions, particularly so for small and open economies. One way to estimate equilibrium exchange rates, and as a consequence also currency misalignments, is to use the so-called behavioral approach. The concept of Behavioral Equilibrium Exchange Rates (BEER) has been pioneered by Clark and MacDonald (1998) and is based on an econometric analysis of a model of the behavior of the real effective exchange rate (REER).  The underlying theoretical concept is the uncovered interest rate parity (UIP). The UIP states that the log-difference between the expected value of the nominal exchange rate in period t+k and the nominal exchange rate in period t is equal to the domestic nominal interest rate in period t over the maturity k minus the foreign nominal interest rate with the same maturity. Hence, the expected movement in the nominal exchange rate is equal to the difference in nominal interest rates. The nominal exchange rate is defined in terms of domestic currency per unit of foreign currency, such that an increase in the nominal exchange rate implies a depreciation of the local currency. Subtracting the expected inflation differential from both sides yields the real interest parity, which allows to state the observed real exchange rate as a function of the expected value of the real exchange rate and the current real interest rate differential. Further, a time-varying risk premium is added, a rise of which is associated with a real depreciation.

The unobservable expected value of the real exchange rate is interpreted as the fundamental, or long-run, component. Clark and MacDonald (1998) suggested the following determinants of the fundamental exchange rate component: net foreign assets (NFA), relative terms of trade (TOT) and a proxy for the Balassa-Samuelson effect (BS). The Balassa-Samuelson effect connects differences in productivity performances between the tradeable and non-tradable sectors to a real appreciation.  Since then many empirical specifications have been used. Government consumption (GOV) to account for a demand bias towards non-tradable goods as well as a proxy for trade liberalization (OPEN) can be found in most empirical exchange rate models.

We apply the BEER approach to the Czech Republic in order to assess potential currency misalignments from central bank intervention. Methodologically, the real equilibrium exchange rate is estimated by extracting the long-run relationship using an autoregressive distributed lag (ARDL) model. The ARDL model, expressed in error-correction form, regresses the dependent variables (REER) in first differences on the lagged values of the dependent and independent variables in levels and first differences.

The empirical results show relative productivity to the Euro Area and the difference in real interest rates to be associated with an appreciation (decline) in the long-run real exchange rate between the Czech Republic and the Euro Area.  It is important to emphasize that catch-up growth was associated with an appreciation of the real exchange rate. Government consumption and net foreign assets to GDP are associated with a real depreciation (increase) in the long-run real exchange rate.  Terms of trade are weakly linked to a real appreciation and trade liberalization to a real depreciation, though, both effects are not strong enough to reach statistical significance.  the estimated coefficients with HP-filtered values of the fundamentals yields an estimate of the real equilibrium exchange rate. Figure 3 (see pdf) shows the difference between the observed real exchange rate and the estimated equilibrium real exchange rate. It can be seen that the period of central bank intervention was association with an undervaluation of the real exchange rate by about 4 %. Moreover, the Czech real exchange rate was slightly undervalued during the immediate pre-crisis period, followed by an overvaluation until the central bank intervened. At the moment the Czech real exchange rate seems neither over- nor undervalued.

Figure 4 (see pdf) compares the observed and equilibrium real exchange rates since 2000. We see that the equilibrium exchange rate followed a strong appreciation trend until the financial crisis since when the equilibrium rate stagnated. Using estimates for the fundamental drivers of the equilibrium exchange rate (AMECO), to perform an out-of-sample projection suggests the Czech real exchange rate to appreciate. The resulting appreciation, when converted into nominal terms, is around 4 % until 2020, which is less substantial than the projected appreciation by the CNB of 7 % until 2020. 

To sum up, exchange rates are a vital aspect of monetary conditions in the CEE region. At the moment, this is most evident in the Czech Republic, where unexpected exchange rate depreciation has led the Czech National Bank to accelerate monetary policy tightening. Estimating a real equilibrium exchange rate for the Czech Republic, using the BEER approach, shows that past currency misalignments have faded and a pre-crisis trend in real exchange rate appreciation might be resumed.


Authors
Martin Ertl                                            Franz Xaver Zobl
Chief Economist                                  Economist
UNIQA Capital Markets GmbH           UNIQA Capital Markets GmbH

Disclaimer
This publication is neither a marketing document nor a financial analysis. It merely contains information on general economic data. Despite thorough research and the use of reliable data sources, we cannot be held responsible for the completeness, correctness, currentness or accuracy of the data provided in this publication.
Our analyses are based on public Information, which we consider to be reliable. However, we cannot provide a guarantee that the information is complete or accurate. We reserve the right to change our stated opinion at any time and without prior notice. The provided information in the present publication is not to be understood or used as a recommendation to purchase or sell a financial instrument or alternatively as an invitation to propose an offer. This publication should only be used for information purposes. It cannot replace a bespoke advisory service to an investor based on his / her individual circumstances such as risk appetite, knowledge and experience with financial instruments, investment targets and financial status. The present publication contains short-term market forecasts. Past performance is not a reliable indication for future performance.

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