Exchange Rate Policies

Using Soft Pegs and Hard Pegs

When a government intervenes in the foreign exchange market so that the currency's exchange rate is different from what the market would have produced, it establishes a “peg” for its currency. A soft peg is the name for an exchange rate policy where the government usually allows the market to set exchange rate, but in some cases, especially if the exchange rate seems to be moving rapidly in one direction, the central bank will intervene in the market. With a hard peg exchange rate policy, the central bank sets a fixed and unchanging value for the exchange rate. A central bank can implement soft peg and hard peg policies.

Suppose the market exchange rate for the Brazilian currency, the real, would be 35 cents/real with a daily quantity of 15 billion real traded in the market, as the equilibrium E0 in Figure (a) and Figure (b) show. However, Brazil's government decides that the exchange rate should be 30 cents/real, as Figure (a) shows. Perhaps Brazil sets this lower exchange rate to benefit its export industries. Perhaps it is an attempt to stimulate aggregate demand by stimulating exports. Perhaps Brazil believes that the current market exchange rate is higher than the long-term purchasing power parity value of the real, so it is minimizing fluctuations in the real by keeping it at this lower rate. Perhaps the government set the target exchange rate sometime in the past, and it is now maintaining it for the sake of stability. Whatever the reason, if Brazil’s central bank wishes to keep the exchange rate below the market level, it must face the reality that at this weaker exchange rate of 30 cents/real, the quantity demanded of its currency at 17 billion reals is greater than the quantity supplied of 13 billion reals in the foreign exchange market.

The graph shows the affects of placing an exchange rate either below (left graph) or above (right graph) the equilibrium.
Pegging an Exchange Rate (a) If an exchange rate is pegged below what would otherwise be the equilibrium, then the currency's quantity demanded will exceed the quantity supplied. (b) If an exchange rate is pegged above what would otherwise be the equilibrium, then the currency's quantity supplied exceeds the quantity demanded.

The Brazilian central bank could weaken its exchange rate in two ways. One approach is to use an expansionary monetary policy that leads to lower interest rates. In foreign exchange markets, the lower interest rates will reduce demand and increase supply of the real and lead to depreciation. Central banks do not use this technique often because lowering interest rates to weaken the currency may be in conflict with the country’s monetary policy goals. Alternatively, Brazil’s central bank could trade directly in the foreign exchange market. The central bank can expand the money supply by creating reals, use the reals to purchase foreign currencies, and avoid selling any of its own currency. In this way, it can fill the gap between quantity demanded and quantity supplied of its currency.

Figure (b) shows the opposite situation. Here, the Brazilian government desires a stronger exchange rate of 40 cents/real than the market rate of 35 cents/real. Perhaps Brazil desires the stronger currency to reduce aggregate demand and to fight inflation, or perhaps Brazil believes that that current market exchange rate is temporarily lower than the long-term rate. Whatever the reason, at the higher desired exchange rate, the quantity supplied of 16 billion reals exceeds the quantity demanded of 14 billion reals.

Brazil’s central bank can use a contractionary monetary policy to raise interest rates, which will increase demand and reduce currency supply on foreign exchange markets, and lead to an appreciation. Alternatively, Brazil’s central bank can trade directly in the foreign exchange market. In this case, with an excess supply of its own currency in foreign exchange markets, the central bank must use reserves of foreign currency, like U.S. dollars, to demand its own currency and thus cause an appreciation of its exchange rate.

Both a soft peg and a hard peg policy require that the central bank intervene in the foreign exchange market. However, a hard peg policy attempts to preserve a fixed exchange rate at all times. A soft peg policy typically allows the exchange rate to move up and down by relatively small amounts in the short run of several months or a year, and to move by larger amounts over time, but seeks to avoid extreme short-term fluctuations.