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Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Switzerland and Vietnam have officially been designated as currency manipulators, the Treasury Department announced today.

Why it matters: The designation allows the White House to impose a broad range of tariffs, sanctions and other punishments on the two friendly countries, both of whom have been struggling with strengthening currencies this year.

  • The Swiss franc is a classic "flight-to-quality" currency, bought in times of global crisis and uncertainty. When that happens, Swiss exporters suffer, and the domestic inflation rate risks turning negative. So the central bank has intervened in currency markets to slow the strengthening of the currency.
  • Vietnam has been the primary beneficiary of the U.S. trade war with China. Global manufacturers who don't want to have all their eggs in the China basket have been moving some of their operations to Vietnam, which carries much less geopolitical risk. The increase in Vietnamese exports has strengthened the currency, and the central bank has tried to keep that strengthening under control.

The big picture: The "currency manipulator" label is rarely used. Until now it has only been applied to China (in 2019 and between 1992 and 1994), as well as Japan and Taiwan in the late 1980s.

Between the lines: While most U.S. administrations pay lip service to the idea that a strong dollar is in the national interest, Trump has aggressively taken the other side, seeking a weaker dollar — which means he wants other countries' currencies to be stronger. Even though the Swiss and Vietnamese currencies have been strengthening, he doesn't think they've been strengthening enough.

The bottom line: The designation will likely have limited practical consequence between now and Jan. 21, at which point a friendlier and more multilateralist Biden administration could try to salve any hurt feelings from this move.

Go deeper

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
Dec 17, 2020 - Podcasts

Behind the Bitcoin boom

Bitcoin yesterday topped $20,000 for the first time ever, and then just kept climbing.

Axios Re:Cap digs into the reasons for Bitcoin's price surge, and what it means for its future as an actual currency, with investor and podcast host Anthony Pompliano.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
34 mins ago - Energy & Environment

Carbon emissions are roaring back from COVID-19

Expand chart
Data: IEA Global Energy Review 2021; Chart: Axios Visuals

Global energy-related carbon emissions will surge this year as coal, oil and natural gas consumption return from the pandemic that caused an unprecedented emissions decline, the International Energy Agency estimated Tuesday.

Why it matters: The projected rise of nearly 5% would be the largest since the "carbon intensive" recovery from the financial crisis over a decade ago, IEA said, putting emissions just below their 2019 peak.

56 mins ago - Axios Twin Cities

Jurors resume deliberations as the nation awaits Chauvin verdict

Protesters outside Hennepin County Government Center on the day of closing arguments. Photo: Christopher Mark Juhn/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Jurors in the Derek Chauvin trial resume deliberations Tuesday morning as the nation waits for a verdict.

The latest: The 12 jurors met behind closed doors for about three hours Monday before breaking for the night at 8pm.