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Did the Structure of Trade and Foreign Debt Affect Reserve Currency Composition? Evidence form Interwar Japan


  • Mariko Hatase

    (Director and Senior Economist, History Section, Institute for Monetary and Economic Studies, Bank of Japan (E-mail:

  • Mari Ohnuki

    (Associate Director and Economist, History Section, Institute for Monetary and Economic Studies, Bank of Japan (E-mail:


Historical experience is often invoked in the modern debate on competition among reserve currencies, yet little is known about quantitative aspects or institutional features of reserve management. By drawing on newly obtained data on foreign exchange reserves, especially those broken down by currency, this paper explores the competition between the British pound sterling and the U.S. dollar for the status of leading reserve currency in Japan during the interwar period. We find that competition between these two currencies remained undecided and that their relative status alternated repeatedly. Historical materials and the results of econometric analysis suggest that the key factors explaining a choice of reserve currencies are trade volumes and the currency denomination of external debt. The latter criteria supported maintaining sterling fs status as a reserve currency for the interwar period, reflecting its considerable share in debt service generated through issues that had been launched when London was the sole international market. The stability of potential reserve currencies is shown to be crucial as well. We also find evidence of institutional factors, which include taxation, foreign exchange controls, and restrictions on financial activities.

Suggested Citation

  • Mariko Hatase & Mari Ohnuki, 2009. "Did the Structure of Trade and Foreign Debt Affect Reserve Currency Composition? Evidence form Interwar Japan," IMES Discussion Paper Series 09-E-15, Institute for Monetary and Economic Studies, Bank of Japan.
  • Handle: RePEc:ime:imedps:09-e-15

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Bernanke, Ben S. & Gertler, Mark & Gilchrist, Simon, 1999. "The financial accelerator in a quantitative business cycle framework," Handbook of Macroeconomics,in: J. B. Taylor & M. Woodford (ed.), Handbook of Macroeconomics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 21, pages 1341-1393 Elsevier.
    2. Nao Sudo & Yuki Teranishi, 2008. "Optimal Monetary Policy under Imperfect Financial Integration," IMES Discussion Paper Series 08-E-25, Institute for Monetary and Economic Studies, Bank of Japan.
    3. Ravenna, Federico & Walsh, Carl E., 2006. "Optimal monetary policy with the cost channel," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 53(2), pages 199-216, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. John Singleton & Catherine R. Schenk, 2015. "The shift from sterling to the dollar, 1965–76: evidence from Australia and New Zealand," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 68(4), pages 1154-1176, November.
    2. Ito, Hiroyuki & McCauley, Robert N. & Chan, Tracy, 2015. "Currency composition of reserves, trade invoicing and currency movements," Emerging Markets Review, Elsevier, vol. 25(C), pages 16-29.

    More about this item


    Foreign Exchange Reserves; Gold Exchange Standard; Exchange Rate; Trade Strucutre; Debt Structure; Japan;

    JEL classification:

    • F31 - International Economics - - International Finance - - - Foreign Exchange
    • F32 - International Economics - - International Finance - - - Current Account Adjustment; Short-term Capital Movements
    • F33 - International Economics - - International Finance - - - International Monetary Arrangements and Institutions
    • F34 - International Economics - - International Finance - - - International Lending and Debt Problems
    • N20 - Economic History - - Financial Markets and Institutions - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • N25 - Economic History - - Financial Markets and Institutions - - - Asia including Middle East

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