Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Looming Dollar Revolt

The world faces a problem—and it’s a big one. 
Robert MorleyColumnist 
In less than one month, the richest and most powerful nations will descend on South Korea. It will be the biggest G-20 summit of all time—with nearly 10,000 of the world’s most influential politicians, ceos of international organizations and corporate business barons in attendance. And it’s for good reason.
This year’s G-20 summit is officially billed as a conference to promote issues such as global safety nets, modernizing international institutions, strengthening the international regulatory systems and sustainable development in low-income nations.
Those items and others might be discussed, but when the doors close and the delegates purportedly stop for the night, that’s when the real deal-making and secret lobbying will get ferocious.
The actual agenda item? What to do about the U.S. dollar!

The dollar’s plight is well known. The greenback’s value is plummeting. It has been slipping for years, but the trajectory is steepening—and now, with America in recession, the falling dollar is threatening to throw global markets, exchange rates and interest rates into chaos. Against the world’s major currencies, the dollar has lost more than 14 percent of its value over just the past five years. Over the past 10 years, the dollar has lost a shocking 32 percent. Just this past month, the dollar has plummeted 6.5 percent.
For the first time in history, the Australian and Canadian dollars are trading at parity with the U.S. dollar.
But the dollar rout is actually even worse than these numbers show. This is because as the dollar has devalued, so have the other currencies the dollar is compared to. When measured against hard commodities, the dollar crash is much more vivid. A decade ago, you could have purchased an ounce of gold for $275. An ounce of silver cost $4.80. Today you will pay $1,372 and $24.42 respectively. But the dollar isn’t just crashing against precious metals. Tin hit a record high of $27,250 per ton on October 14. One day later, cotton hit a record high. Soybean, corn and wheat prices are soaring too. Even the price of coffee is up—and not just at Starbucks.
Yet, the Federal Reserve is threatening to unleash a second round of “quantitative easing” to “stimulate” the economy—a move that is guaranteed to send the dollar plummeting some more. The hope is that by printing up additional trillions of dollars to purchase U.S. government debt and garbage subprime mortgages, interest rates will fall and consumers will begin spending.
The plan will fail. The first $1.75 trillion worth of quantitative easing disastrously failed to fix the economy. Is it logical to think that more of the same will produce a different result? It was too much borrowing and spending that got America into its mess in the first place.
Astoundingly, Federal Reserve officials, like Atlanta Federal Reserve President Dennis Lockhart, actually argue that the first stimulus didn’t work because it wasn’t sufficiently large enough. The next round will have to be “reasonably large” if it is to have a chance of working, he says. If $1.75 trillion in newly printed dollars is not “large enough,” how much will it take?
JP Morgan analysts estimate that another $2 trillion might buy America 0.3 percent additional growth in 2011 and 0.4 percent in 2012. To get America on track, some analysts say upward of $6 trillion might be needed. One Goldman Sachs guru says that, considering the debt deleveraging and the wealth destruction the economy is still facing, it might take $30 trillion to do the job, reports the Telegraph.
But for America, money has never been an obstacle.
American politicians have spent the nation onto the verge of bankruptcy. Total government debt (local, state, federal) now stands in excess of $14.7 trillion. That is $47,800 per person. However, this is only beginning to scratch the surface of America’s debt problem—despite the fact that it is already over 100 percent of America’s gross domestic product. Total debt in America was a gargantuan $57 trillion as of April, according to the Grandfather Economic Report. If you include liabilities such as Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and other pension plans, the government is on the hook for another $50 trillion in promises.
There is only one way America can pay its debt—and it is not an honest way. Central bankers know it, the world’s top financiers know it, and foreign nations are beginning to realize it too. The Federal Reserve calls it “quantitative easing.” Money printing.
America’s debt crisis has become the world’s currency crisis. The only way that America will be able to pay its debt is to simply print the money to pay the bills. But as the laws of supply and demand dictate, with every dollar created out of thin air, each existing dollar becomes worth fractionally less. Since we are talking tens of trillions, then over the long term the dollar is virtually doomed to depreciate in value.
Meanwhile, politicians try to distract attention from America’s debt problem by pinning the blame on China. But it is the politicians that are the most culpable.
Yes, China is purposefully undervaluing the yuan to promote Chinese manufacturing at the expense of American jobs, but it has been doing so for decades and American politicians and academics have said and done virtually nothing.
Speaking from Beijing, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus recently railed at China for not allowing the dollar to fall against the yuan. He said that if China allowed the yuan to appreciate to its true value, the result would be the creation of up to 500,000 new American jobs. Baucus might be right, but the bigger point is that 500,000 jobs is a drop in the bucket compared to what America needs. Over 8 million jobs have been lost during this recession. And America needs to create between 150,000 to 200,000 jobs per month just to keep up with population growth.
America’s biggest economic problem is by far its debt problem—and now it is the world’s problem too.
China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Brazil, South Korea, Germany, India and other nations collectively hold more than $4.2 trillion in U.S. government debt. That does not count state or corporate debt, or the $6 trillion owed by U.S. mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
These countries have invested their money and their faith in America. But now they see the U.S. embarking on “quantitative easing” monetary policies specifically designed to cheat them out of their money.
Dissatisfaction with the dollar is escalating. And America’s trade partners may be getting to the point where they may actually do something about it.
Expect this year’s G-20 summit in Seoul to be a hotbed of anti-dollar sentiment. When the lights go out and the delegates head home from the meetings, then the real wheeling and dealing will begin.
A dollar revolt is brewing. And America’s leaders don’t even see it coming. How long before a new reserve currency emerges to replace the dollar? The dollar’s days are numbered. For a perspective on what the next reserve currency might be, read “New Global Trend: Dump a Dollar, Buy a Euro.”