By Colin Barr
September 21, 2010

Believe it or not, the Fed could do worse.

The Federal Reserve will meet Tuesday to weigh another round of shock therapy for a torpid economy. Investors are wondering what the Federal Open Market Committee will say about a possible second round of so-called quantitative easing. Economists widely expect the Fed to buy, say, $1 trillion of Treasury bonds over a period of months.

No matter what the Fed says at 2:15 p.m. EDT, it is certain to be lambasted as either destroying the dollar or failing to boost job growth, or both. Such is life for Ben Bernanke (right).

Yet for all that, there are central banks that are even more feckless than the Fed. While the Fed’s plan to restore the economy through low interest rates and other stimulative moves is far from certain to succeed, at least it’s not the most obviously wasteful policy option.

That distinction, such as it is, goes to “currency intervention” — the star-crossed practice in which central banks commit scarce national resources to holding down the value of their currency. The idea is to bolster the economy by making exports cheaper and more competitive, while doing the opposite for imports.

But in doing so, officials essentially play chicken with the $4 trillion-a-day foreign exchange market, and almost inevitably lose.

Despite the program’s poor track record, it continues to appeal to central bankers at a time of stressed finances and weak growth.

“What we have here is a multilateral race to the bottom,” said Dean Popplewell, chief currency strategist at foreign exchange broker Oanda Corp. in Toronto. “The question is who can do it with the least kerfuffle.”

Here are three central banks that have both raced for the bottom and caused a kerfuffle, much to their citizens’ dismay.

  1. The Bank of Switzerland. It spent around $200 billion between March 2009 and this past June in a bid to hold down the Swiss franc’s appreciation against the euro. How did that work out? The swissie appreciated 10% during that span anyway. “Those are some serious paper losses,” said Popplewell. “You’d have to say their big picture strategy hasn’t worked out.”

You May Like