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A Beginner's Guide to Exchange Rates and the Foreign Exchange Market
[Part 3: Exchange Rates - Supply]
 More of this Feature
• Part 1: Exchange Rates - What are they?
• Part 2: Exchange Rates - Arbitrage
• Part 3: Exchange Rates - Supply
• Part 4: Exchange Rates - Demand
• Part 5: Case Study: Canada - Introduction
• Part 6: Case Study: Canada - Commodity Prices
• Part 7: Case Study: Canada - Interest Rates
• Part 8: Case Study: Canada - International Factors

Basic econonomic theory teaches us that if the supply of a good increases, and nothing else changes, the price of that good will decrease. If the supply of a country's currency increases, we should see that it takes more of that currency to purchase a different currency than it did before. Suppose there was a big jump in the supply of the Canadian dollar. We would expect to see the Canadian dollar become less valuable relative to other currencies. So the Canadian-to-U.S. Exchange rate should decrease, from 67 cents down to, say, 50 cents. Each Canadian dollar would give us less American dollars than it did before. Similarly, the U.S.-to-Canadian exchange rate would increase from $1.49 to $2.00, so each U.S. dollar would give us more Canadian dollars than it did before, as a Canadian dollar is less valuable than it used to be.

Why would the supply of a currency increase?

Currencies are traded on the foreign exchange market, and the supply of a currency on that market will change over time. There are a few different organizations whose actions will cause a rise in the supply of the foreign exchange market:

  1. Export Companies

    Suppose a South African farm sells the cashews it produces to a large Japanese firm. It is likely that the contract will be negotiated in Japanese yen, so the farm will receive its revenue in a currency with limited use outside of Japan. Since the company needs to pay it's employees in the local currency, namely the South African rand, the company would sell its yen on a foreign exchange market and buy rands. The supply of Japanese yen on the foreign exchange market will increase, and the supply of South African rands will decrease. This will cause the rand to appreciate in value (become more valuable) relative to other currencies and the yen to depreciate.

  2. Foreign Investors

    A German automobile manufacturer wants to build a new plant in Windsor, ON, Canada. To purchase the land, hire construction workers, etc., the firm will need Canadian dollars. However most of their cash reserves are held in euros. The company will be forced to go to the foreign exchange market, sell some of its euros, and buy Canadian dollars. The supply of euros on the foreign exchange market goes up, and the supply of Canadian dollars goes down. This will cause Canadian dollars to appreciate and euros to depreciate.

    Foreign investment does not have to be in tangible goods such as land. If German investors buy Canadian stocks, such as stocks listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange or purchase Canadian dollar bonds, we will have the same situation as above.

  3. Speculators

    Like the stock market, there are investors who try to make a fortune (or at least a living) by buying and selling currencies. Suppose a currency investor thinks that the Mexican peso will depreciate in the future, so it will be less valuable than other currencies than it is now. In that case, she is likely to sell her pesos on the foreign exchange market and buy a different currency instead, such as the South Korean won. The supply of pesos goes up and the supply of won goes down. This causes pesos to depreciate, and won to appreciate.

    Note the self-fulfilling nature of the beliefs investors hold. If investors feel that a currency will depreciate in the future, they will try to sell it today. Since the currency is being sold by investors, the supply of it will go up, and the price of it will decrease. The investor thought that the currency would depreciate, she acted on that belief and sold her currency, and the act of selling caused the depreciation to take place. Self-fulfilling prophecies such as this one are quite common in economics.

  4. Central Bankers

    The central bank of the United States is the Federal Reserve, more commonly known as "The Fed". One of the responsibilities of the Fed is to control the supply, or the amount, of currency in a country. The most obvious way to increase the supply of money is to simply print more currency, though there are much more sophisticated ways of changing the money supply. If the Fed prints more 10 and 20 dollar bills, the money supply will increase. When the government increases the money supply, it is likely some of this new money will make its way to the foreign exchange market, so the supply of U.S. dollars will increase there as well.

    A central bank will often directly increase the supply of money on the foreign exchange markets. Central banks like the Fed keep a supply of most (if not all) currencies in reserve and will often use them to influence the exchange rate. If the Fed decides that the U.S. dollar has appreciated in value too much relative to the Japanese yen, it will sell some of the U.S. dollars it has in reserve and buy Japanese yen. This will increase the supply of dollars on the foreign exchange market, and decrease the supply of yen, causing a depreciation in the value of the dollar relative to the yen. Of course, the Fed cannot do this as much as it would like, because it may end up running out of some currencies. As well, the Japanese central bank (named the Bank of Japan) could decide that the Fed is manipulating the price of the yen too much and the Bank of Japan could counteract the Fed by selling yen and by buying dollars.

These are the organizations who will increase the supply of currency on the exchange market. Now we'll investigate the demand side of foreign exchange markets.

Next page > Part 4: Exchange Rates - Supply > Page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.

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