Fixed Exchange Rates, with Pros, Cons and Examples

What the Riyal, Lev, and Krone All Have in Common

Man in headdress (gutra) overseeing oil retention pond,
••• Photo: Wayne Eastep/Getty Images

A fixed exchange rate is when a country ties the value of its currency to some other widely-used commodity or currency. The dollar is used for most transactions in international trade. Today, most fixed exchange rates are pegged to the U.S. dollar. Countries also fix their currencies to that of their most frequent trading partners.

In the past, currencies were fixed to an ounce of gold. In the 1944 Bretton Woods Agreement, countries agreed to peg all currencies to the U.S. dollar.

The United States agreed to redeem all dollars for gold. In 1971, President Nixon took the dollar off of the gold standard to end the recession. Still, many countries kept their currencies pegged to the dollar, because the dollar is the world's reserve currency. Nixon's action ended the 200-year history of the gold standard.

A fixed exchange rate tells you that you can always exchange your money for the same amount of the other currency.  It allows you to determine how much of one currency you can trade for another. For example, if you go to Saudi Arabia, you know the dollar will buy you 3.75 Saudi riyals, since the dollar's exchange rate in riyals is fixed. Saudi Arabia did that because its primary export, oil, is priced in U.S. dollars. All oil contracts and most commodities contracts around the world are written and executed in dollars. 

Advantages

A fixed exchange rate provides currency stability.

Investors always know what the currency is worth. That makes the country's businesses attractive to foreign direct investors. They don't have to protect themselves from wild swings in the currency's value. They are hedging their currency risk.

A country can avoid inflation if it fixes its currency to a popular one like the U.S. dollar or euro.

It benefits from the strength of that country's economy. As the United States or European Union grows, its currency does as well. Without that fixed exchange rate, the smaller country's currency will slide. As a result, the imports from the large economy become more expensive. That imports inflation. 

For example, the dollar's value is 3.75 in Saudi riyals. Let's say a barrel of oil is worth $100 or 375 riyals. If the dollar strengthens 20 percent against the euro, the value of the riyal, which is fixed to the dollar, has also risen 20 percent against the euro. To purchase French pastries, the Saudis pay less than they did before the dollar strengthened. For this reason, the Saudis didn't need to limit supply as oil prices fell to $50 a barrel in 2014. The value of money is what it purchases for you. If most of your country's imports are to a single country, then a fixed exchange rate in that currency will stabilize prices.

One country that is loosening its fixed exchange rate is China. It ties the value of its currency, the yuan, to a basket of currencies including the dollar. In August 2015, it allowed the fixed rate to vary according to the prior day's closing rate. It keeps the yuan in a tight 2 percent trading range around that value.

 

China has to manually adjust the exchange rate of the yuan to the dollar. The U.S. government pressured the Chinese government to let the yuan rise in value. It wanted U.S. exports to be competitively priced in China. That action would make Chinese exports to the United States more expensive. It's an attempt to lower the U.S. trade deficit with China.

Disadvantages

A fixed exchange rate can be expensive to maintain. A country must have enough foreign exchange reserves to manage its currency's value. 

A fixed exchange rate can make a country's currency a target for speculators. They can "short" the currency, artificially driving its value down. The central bank must convert its foreign exchange to prop up its currency's value. If it doesn't have enough, it will have to raise interest rates. That will cause a recession.

 

That happened to the British pound in 1992. George Soros kept shorting the pound until the U.K. central bank gave in and allowed the pound to float. In 2014, it happened when Switzerland had to release the Swiss franc from its fix to the euro, which had plummeted in value. 

Examples

There are several ways countries maintain a fixed exchange rate. The purest form is when its currency is pegged to a set value to a single currency. Many countries fix a set value to a basket of currencies. Others maintain their currency within a range. They peg it to either a single currency or to a basket of currencies. Here are examples of each type.

Currency Fixed at a Set Value to a Single Currency

According to the World Bank's "AREAER 2016 report", these countries had fixed currencies. AREAER is an acronym for the Annual Report on Exchange Arrangements and Exchange Restrictions. In this report, the following nations promise to always give the same amount in their currency for each unit of currency to which it is fixed. 

CountryCurrencyPeg (on 8/16/18)Equals one:
ArubaAng            1.79U.S. dollar
BahamasDollar            1.00U.S. dollar
BahrainDinar            0.38U.S. dollar
BarbadosDollar            2.00U.S. dollar
Bosnia and HerzegovinaMark            1.73Euro
BhutanNgultrum            1.00Indian rupee
BruneiDollar            1.39Singapore dollar
BulgariaLev            1.96Euro
ComorosFranc        491.97Euro
CubaPeso            1.00U.S. dollar
Curacao and Sint MaartenAng            1.79U.S. dollar
DenmarkKrone            7.45Euro
DijiboutiFranc        177.72U.S. dollar
EritreaNakfa          15.38U.S. dollar
Hong KongDollar            7.85U.S. dollar
IraqDinar     1,190.00U.S. dollar
JordanDinar            0.71U.S. dollar
LebanonPound     1,507.50U.S. dollar
LesothoLothi            1.00S.A. rand
LibyaDinar            1.34U.S. dollar
NamibiaDollar            1.00S.A. rand
NepalRupee            1.61Indian rupee
OmanRial            0.38U.S. dollar
PanamaBalboa            1.00U.S. dollar
QatarRiyal            3.64U.S. dollar
Sao Tome and PrincipeDobra   24,196.79Euro
Saudi ArabiaRiyal            3.75U.S. dollar
SwazilandLilangeni            1.00S.A. rand
TurkmenistanNew Manat            3.50U.S. dollar
UAEDirham            3.67U.S. dollar
VenezuelaBolivar 248,550.00U.S. dollar

In addition to the countries on the table, there are 14 countries that use common fixed currencies. There are seven countries in Central Africa that use the Central African franc. They are: Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Republic of the Congo. There are seven countries in West Africa that use the West African franc. They are Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Togo.  Each currency is tied to the euro at 655.957 CFA to one euro. 

Currency Loosely Fixed

These countries fix their currencies to a trading range tied to either a single or a basket of currencies.

CountryCurrencyBandFixed To
ChinaYuan2% trading band around yesterday's midpointBasket weighted toward U.S. dollar
Singapore  Singapore dollarManaged within trading band to allow a slow rise Basket
VietnamDong2% trading band (devalued 12/30/16)U.S. dollar