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Hard currency

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In macroeconomics, hard currency, safe-haven currency, or strong currency is any globally traded currency that serves as a reliable and stable store of value. Factors contributing to a currency's hard status might include the stability and reliability of the respective state's legal and bureaucratic institutions, level of corruption, long-term stability of its purchasing power, the associated country's political and fiscal condition and outlook, and the policy posture of the issuing central bank.

Safe haven currency is defined as a currency which behaves like a hedge for a reference portfolio of risky assets conditional on movements in global risk aversion.[1] Conversely, a weak or soft currency is one which is expected to fluctuate erratically or depreciate against other currencies. Softness is typically the result of weak legal institutions and/or political or fiscal instability. Junk currency is also even less trusted than soft currency and have a very low currency value. These countries experience sharp falls in value all the time.


The paper currencies of some developed countries have earned recognition as hard currencies at various times, including the United States dollar, euro, British pound sterling, Japanese yen, Swiss franc and to a lesser extent the Canadian dollar and Australian dollar. As times change, a currency that is considered weak at one time may become stronger, or vice versa.

One barometer of hard currencies is how they are favored within the foreign-exchange reserves of countries:

The percental composition of currencies of official foreign exchange reserves from 1995 to 2022.[2][3][4]



The US dollar (USD) has been considered a strong currency for much of its history. Despite the Nixon shock of 1971, and the United States' growing fiscal and trade deficits, most of the world's monetary systems have been tied to the US dollar due to the Bretton Woods system and dollarization. Countries have thus been compelled to purchase dollars for their foreign exchange reserves, denominate their commodities in dollars for foreign trade, or even use dollars domestically, thus buoying the currency's value.

The euro (EUR) has also been considered a hard currency for much of its short history. However, the European sovereign debt crisis has partially eroded that confidence.

The Swiss franc (CHF) has long been considered a hard currency, and in fact was the last paper currency in the world to terminate its convertibility to gold on May 1, 2000, following a referendum.[5][6] In the summer of 2011, the European sovereign debt crisis led to rapid flows out of the euro and into the franc by those seeking hard currency, causing the latter to appreciate rapidly. On September 6, 2011, the Swiss National Bank announced that it would buy an "unlimited" number of euros to fix an exchange rate at 1.00 EUR = 1.20 CHF, to protect its trade. This action temporarily eliminated the franc's hard currency advantage over the euro but was abandoned in January 2015.

The Japanese yen used to be a hard currency. However, it is now regarded as a junk currency due to the sharp decline in the currency's value since 2022.[7][8][9][10] For this reason, many exchange offices do not handle the Japanese yen.[11]


Investors as well as ordinary people generally prefer hard currencies to soft currencies at times of increased inflation (or, more precisely, times of increased inflation differentials between countries), at times of heightened political or military risk, or when they feel that one or more government-imposed exchange rates are unrealistic. There may be regulatory reasons for preferring to invest outside one's home currency, e.g. the local currency may be subject to capital controls which makes it difficult to spend it outside the host nation.

For example, during the Cold War, the ruble in the Soviet Union was not a hard currency because it could not be easily spent outside the Soviet Union and because the exchange rates were fixed at artificially high levels for persons with hard currency, such as Western tourists. (The Soviet government also imposed severe limits on how many rubles could be exchanged by Soviet citizens for hard currencies.) After the fall of the Soviet Union in December 1991, the ruble depreciated rapidly, while the purchasing power of the US dollar was more stable, making it a harder currency than the ruble. A tourist could get 200 rubles per US dollar in June 1992, and 500 ruble per dollar in November 1992.

In some economies, which may be either planned economies or market economies using a soft currency, there are special stores that accept only hard currency. Examples have included Tuzex stores in the former Czechoslovakia, Intershops in East Germany, Pewex in Poland, or Friendship stores in China in the early 1990s. These stores offer a wider variety of goods – many of which are scarce or imported – than standard stores.[citation needed]

Mixed currencies[edit]

Because hard currencies may be subject to legal restrictions, the desire for transactions in hard currency may lead to a black market. In some cases, a central bank may attempt to increase confidence in the local currency by pegging it against a hard currency, as is this case with the Hong Kong dollar or the Bosnia and Herzegovina convertible mark. This may lead to problems if economic conditions force the government to break the currency peg (and either appreciate or depreciate sharply) as occurred in the 1998–2002 Argentine great depression.

In some cases, an economy may choose to abandon local currency altogether and adopt another country's currency as legal tender. Examples include the adoption of the US dollar in Panama, Ecuador, El Salvador and Zimbabwe and the adoption of the German mark and later the euro in Serbia and Montenegro.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Habib, Maurizio M.; Stracca, Livio (2012-05-01). "Getting beyond carry trade: What makes a safe haven currency?". Journal of International Economics. Symposium on the Global Dimensions of the Financial Crisis. 87 (1): 50–64. doi:10.1016/j.jinteco.2011.12.005. hdl:10419/153722. S2CID 55678634.
  2. ^ For 1995–99, 2006–22: "Currency Composition of Official Foreign Exchange Reserves (COFER)". Washington, DC: International Monetary Fund. April 3, 2023.
  3. ^ For 1999–2005: International Relations Committee Task Force on Accumulation of Foreign Reserves (February 2006), The Accumulation of Foreign Reserves (PDF), Occasional Paper Series, Nr. 43, Frankfurt am Main: European Central Bank, ISSN 1607-1484ISSN 1725-6534 (online).
  4. ^ Review of the International Role of the Euro (PDF), Frankfurt am Main: European Central Bank, December 2005, ISSN 1725-2210ISSN 1725-6593 (online).
  5. ^ "Swiss Narrowly Vote to Drop Gold Standard". The New York Times. Associated Press. 19 April 1999. Retrieved 29 May 2024.
  6. ^ "Federal Law on Currency and Legal Tender to enter into force on 1 May 2000" (Press release). Efd.admin.ch. 12 April 2000. Archived from the original on 17 May 2013. Retrieved 20 September 2012.
  7. ^ "Yen's decline will inevitably affect confidence in Japan's economy". Nikkei Asia. Retrieved 2024-05-29.
  8. ^ Cawley, Nick (2024-04-17). "Japanese Yen Forecast: USD/JPY and GBP/JPY Technical Analysis and Potential Set-Ups". DailyFX. Retrieved 2024-05-29.
  9. ^ "日本円が「ジャンク通貨」に? ロシアや新興国通貨よりも価値下落:朝日新聞デジタル" [Will the Japanese yen become a "junk currency"? Decrease in value compared to Russian and emerging market currencies]. 朝日新聞デジタル (in Japanese). 2022-09-02. Retrieved 2024-05-29.
  10. ^ "「円弱」時代の処方箋 国内生産・インバウンド・外貨投資に活路 編集委員 小栗太". 日本経済新聞 (in Japanese). 2024-04-24. Retrieved 2024-05-29.
  11. ^ "円安で日本円は"ジャンク通貨"になった 海外両替所に日本円の表示がないことも" [The depreciation of the yen has turned the Japanese yen into a "junk currency". Overseas currency exchange offices may not display Japanese yen.]. マネーポストWEB (in Japanese). 2022-08-25. Retrieved 2024-05-29.