CEPII, Recherche et Expertise sur l'economie mondiale
Central Bank Currency Swaps and the International Monetary System


Christophe Destais

Central bank currency swaps (CBCS) allow central banks to provide foreign currency liquidity to the commercial banks in their jurisdictions. Since the end of 2007, these swaps have emerged as a de facto key feature of the international monetary system (IMS), with the US Federal Reserve (FED) having extensive recourse to them during the financial crisis, and their exploitation by the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) to help internationalizing the renminbi. This trend was further confirmed in the second half of 2013 with (i) the signing of two swaps agreements between the PBOC and the Bank of England (BOE) and the European Central Bank (ECB), and (ii) the little remarked decision by six major western central banks including the US FED, announced on October 31st 2013, to make permanent previously temporary swap lines.

Currency swaps combined with the unlimited and exclusive power of central banks to create money can match the volatility of international capital flows. They have proved very effective and extremely helpful during the recent financial crisis. However, so far, central bank swaps have not been associated with conditionality, and are more precarious than alternative institutional arrangements, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or regional financial agreements (RFA). Large scale use of CBCS can render central banks subject to significant counterparty risk.

The huge powers that are bestowed upon central banks as a result of CBCS have triggered questions about the possibility of institutionalizing, and therefore limiting, this new tool. This might be a step too far, since most countries link sovereignty and money creation, and would never agree to have their hands tied. However, in our view, an internationally agreed set of principles would enable a fairer and perhaps more efficient exploitation of this instrument. These principles should include a commitment to transparency. They should encourage long-lasting agreements in order to foster stability, as well as the inclusion of provisions that require commercial banks to soundly manage their foreign liquidity risk. They should also encourage international currency issuers not to unfairly exclude potential CBCS beneficiaries.

 Mots-clés : Central Banks | International Monetary System | Foreign Currency Liquidity Risk | Financial Instability | International Monetary Fund | US dollar | Renminbi

 JEL : F33, F42, F65, G01, G15
CEPII Policy Brief
N°2014-05,  2014

 Domaines d'expertise
Monnaie & Finance

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