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History

The Gold Exchange And The Bretton Woods Agreement

In 1967, a Chicago bank refused a college professor by the name of Milton Friedman a loan in pound sterling because he had intended to use the funds to short the British currency. Friedman, who had perceived sterling to be priced too high against the dollar, wanted to sell the currency, then later buy it back to repay the bank after the currency declined, thus pocketing a quick profit. The bank's refusal to grant the loan was due to the Bretton Woods Agreement, established twenty years earlier, which fixed national currencies against the dollar, and set the dollar at a rate of $35 per ounce of gold.


The Bretton Woods Agreement, set up in 1944, aimed at installing international monetary stability by preventing money from fleeing across nations, and restricting speculation in the world currencies. Participating countries agreed to try and maintain the value of their currency with a narrow margin against the dollar and a corresponding rate of gold as needed. Countries were prohibited from devaluing their currencies to their trade advantage and were only allowed to do so for devaluations of less than 10%. Into the 1950s, the ever-expanding volume of international trade led to massive movements of capital generated by post-war construction. That destabilized foreign exchange rates as setup in Bretton Woods.

The Agreement was finally abandoned in 1971, and the US dollar would no longer be convertible into gold. By 1973, currencies of major industrialized nations floated more freely, as they were controlled mainly by the forces of supply and demand. Prices were floated daily, with volumes, speed and price volatility all increasing throughout the 1970s, giving rise to new financial instruments, market deregulation and trade liberalization.

In the 1980s, cross-border capital movements accelerated with the advent of computers and technology, extending market continuum through Asian, European and American time zones. Transactions in foreign exchange rocketed from about $70 billion a day in the 1980s, to more than $1.5 trillion a day two decades later.
 
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