Will China Transfer American Debt to the IMF?

Economics, Premium POM

Quota Increases, Gold, and SDR Allocations

By JC Collins

Though not reported elsewhere, the statements by International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde yesterday regarding the failure of the US congress to ratify the 2010 Quota and Governance Reforms are explosive.

“Now, the IMFC, which is one of the key governing institutions of the IMF, has decided that if by the 15th of September this matter is not resolved satisfactorily, then we have to select the interim step that we will take forward in order to make sure that there is an element of down payment on the quota increase.”

The speculation of what is meant by “element of down payment” has given POM readers much to think about.

Before I allow myself to speculate, let’s review some facts.

First, there is little reason, considering the delays over the last 5 years, to expect that there will be a reasonable resolution to this matter.  The impasse between the Executive Branch and Congress over the supporting legislation around the 2010 Reforms is nearing an end.

The global community, as of September 15th, will move ahead without the United States, which is the largest shareholder of the IMF.  The time period between now and the deadline represents the last chance for the US to re-establish its moral authority.

Congress is on break for the majority of the summer, which leaves early September as the time period for Congress to pass reform legislation.  This is critical for America’s national security, and even more vital for the stability of the international monetary framework.

Other G20 countries, such as Canada, Australia, Great Britain, Germany, Russia, and perhaps even Saudi Arabia, could push US lawmakers on passing the legislation.  The fact that both the US Administration and Congress have backed themselves into a corner over this situation does not bode well for a reasonable outcome.

One of the possible solutions which has been presented as a “Plan B” or interim step to work around this problem is to de-link the quota increases from the changes to the Executive Board of the IMF.  The actual quota increases only require a 70% vote, which has already been obtained.

Changes to the Executive Board require 85% vote, which the current 80% falls short of.

The quota amounts could be increased, with “an element of down payment on the quota increases”.  This would dilute the quota amount of the United States while increasing the quota amounts of other countries, especially those of the emerging markets, like China, and other BRICS countries.

Where would this down payment come from?

Let’s speculate based on what we know of actual movements in the international monetary framework.

  1. We know China has accumulated a lot of gold.
  2. We know that China just announced a marginal increase in gold reserves.
  3. We know that the Chinese currency will be added to the SDR composition in the coming months.
  4. We know that China is the largest holder of US debt outside of the Federal Reserve.
  5. We know that substitution accounts will be used to exchange foreign reserves into SDR.
  6. We know that China needs to reduce its trade surplus.
  7. We know that US quotas will need to be diluted by an increase in the quotas of other countries.
  8. We know that a percentage of foreign exchange reserves can be placed on deposit with the IMF.

Let’s take a closer look at that last statement and allow ourselves to speculate.  Would it be possible for China to transfer a large portion of its foreign exchange reserves, denominated is USD, to the IMF as a deposit, or down payment on emerging market quota increases?

Equally, could China also transfer gold reserves to be placed on deposit with the IMF as a down payment on emerging market quota increases?

What would this mean for the United States, as the debt it owes to China is transferred to the International Monetary Fund in exchange for quota increases and future SDR allocation?

Using US debt as a means of increasing the quota amounts of emerging markets would place the United States in a very precarious and unsustainable position.  This would be amplified in 2016 as the SDR composition is adjusted to include the RMB, and global demand for USD decreases, preventing America from further funding its account deficit.

The deficit spending of the US government, which will be debated this September and October, will likely be hampered and influenced by whatever method of “quota down payment” is being referenced by the IMF.

Consider, China accumulated large amounts of the world’s primary reserve currency, the USD, only to later exchange that surplus with the IMF for quota increases and SDR allocations.  Add the accumulation of gold, and the potential placement of gold on deposit with the IMF, and the complex simplicity of this multilateral transition comes into focus.

The remainder of this year will be full of drama and surprises.  The US is in a corner.  How will it respond?  – JC