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Why are the dollar and the yen getting stronger, while the euro is getting weaker?
Investors and government officials worldwide are breathing easier this weekend, because Wall Street didn't completely melt down on Friday, as had been feared. Friday and Saturday may be the first times they slept through the night for a week.
But they won't be sleeping well on Sunday night, or probably any night this week.
Stock markets around the world have fallen very far from their recent highs, most of which were reached late in 2007. Here's list compiled by the LA Times:
Iceland -88.7% Russia -73.9% Ireland -73.4% Peru -73.2% Vietnam -70.5% China -69.8% Poland -62.6% Hong Kong -60.1% Brazil -57.2% Egypt -56.9% Italy -55.2% South Korea -54.5% Turkey -58.5% India -58.3% Singapore -58.2% Japan -58.1% Mexico -48.3% Germany -47.0% Spain -46.4% U.S.-S&P 500 -44.0% Australia -43.3% Great Britain -42.3%
The spectre of deflation forces a historic change in economic theory: Economists are shocked that the fight against inflation is over.... (8-Nov-2008)
What's coming next: Understanding the deflationary spiral: Why are the dollar and the yen getting stronger, while the euro is getting weaker?... (27-Oct-2008)
Roubini: The situation is "sheer panic," as hundreds of hedge funds are going bust: Policy makers may need to close markets for one or two weeks.... (24-Oct-2008)
There's never before been a day like this on Wall Street.: Possible exception: One of the days just before or after the 1929 crash.... (11-Oct-2008)
Ben Bernanke's Great Historic Experiment is at the brink: Desperation sets in as credit markets continue to seize up.... (25-Sep-2008)
Government promises to buy bad debt to end the credit crisis: Stock markets stage huge comeback as giddy investors pile in.... (19-Sep-2008)
Web site readers express sadness, anxiety and anger: It's beginning to sink in.... (18-Sep-2008)
Another stunning and historic bailout: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: Giddy investors are popping the champagne corks.... (9-Sep-2008)
Long-term negative market trends asserting themselves strongly: Stock and commodities prices plummet as worldwide foreclosures and recessions worsen.... (5-Sep-2008)
Money supply contracts dramatically, as credit markets continue to seize up.: Former IMF chief: Worst of global financial crisis is yet to come.... (24-Aug-2008)
As commodities plummet worldwide, the meaning is unclear.: We speculate on some possibilities.... (11-Aug-2008)
Alan Greenspan calls this a "once in a century" liquidity crisis.: Says that the "big surprise" is the "impressive" American economy... (3-Aug-2008)
More questions from readers on finance and investing: Anxious readers wonder what's going on, what to do next.... (18-Jul-2008)
Pundits and analysts are baffled by the market's performance: They have some interesting fantasies, as well.... (10-Jul-2008)
Questions from readers on finance and investing: On fraud, the FDIC, China, and other subjects.... (23-Jun-2008)
Royal Bank of Scotland issues global stock crash alert: "A very nasty period is soon to be upon us - be prepared,"... (18-Jun-2008)
Ben Bernanke is still the "Man without Agony": What was he thinking?... (11-Jun-2008)
A clearer explanation of credit default swaps.: How credit default swaps (CDSs) present a systemic risk to the global financial system... (4-Jun-2008)
WSJ's page one story on Bernanke's Princeton "Bubble Laboratory" is almost incoherent: So is Thursday's speech on bubbles by Fed Governor Frederic S. Mishkin.... (18-May-2008)
Brilliant Nobel Prize winners in Economics blame credit bubble on "the news": Meanwhile, the deflationary spiral is in progress, but hyperinflation is not.... (27-Apr-08)
Investment bank UBS is now "writing down" clients' auction rate securities: From individual investors to tech firms, people are losing their money.... (29-Mar-08)
Both consumer and commercial credit is disappearing as deflationary spiral accelerates: Wall Street markets plummet 3% on Tuesday, as service sector contracts sharply.... (6-Feb-08)
Will hyper-inflation make the dollar worthless (like the Weimar republic)?: I've gotten this question several times this week from web site readers,... (21-Dec-07)
Questions and answers about the "credit crunch": What's going on, and what you can do about it.... (6-Dec-07)
Understanding deflation: Why there's less money in the world today than a month ago.: As the markets continue to fall, the Fed is increasingly in a big bind.... (10-Sep-07)
Bernanke's historic experiment takes center stage: An assessment of where we are and where we're going.... (27-Aug-07)
Ben Bernanke's Great Historic Experiment: Bernanke doesn't believe that bubbles exist. His Fed policy will now test his core beliefs.... (18-Aug-07)
Japan's real estate crash may finally end after 16 years: To see where America is going, look what happened in Japan.... (20-Feb-07)
This week's financial data points to trend back toward deflation.: Several inflationary indicators are down for June... (17-Jul-04)
There are other things going on, besides stock markets crashing all around the world. Commodity prices are falling 50% or more, and the Baltic Dry Index, which measures costs for shipping iron ore, copper, and similar commodities, has fallen almost 90%.
To get a better picture of what's going on in the world, here's an interview with Simon Rose, CEO Dahlman-Rose, who's been to Singapore recently, and has had a view of international shipping trade. This is my transcription from Bloomberg tv.
I can give you anecdotal information, and I can give you factual information.
Q: Start with anecdotal information
Rose: Anecdotally, I spent two days driving around two of the biggest ports in Asia, and saw very little activity. Very little. Ships loading, unloading - very little activity.
Factually, the BDI [Baltic Dry Index] is down around 90% this year, and it confirms what I saw with my own eyes.
It's really very simple. You can watch the BDI, you can watch commodity prices, you can watch the stock market -- they all depend on the credit market.
You cannot get credit to load a cargo and bring it from point A to point B. Credit does not exist. 60 sovereign countries cannot get a letter of credit to buy oil.
Q: Are we close to hitting bottom?
Rose: I think it's really simple. I take a leading economic indicator from cab drivers. I asked the cab driver in Singapore what the problem is. He said, "You don't lend money to people who don't pay it back."
No one can buy anything, because there's no global trade right now, and so until we unfreeze the credit markets, and people can get a counterparty and help them buy oil, and deliver it from point A to point B, there's not going to be a lot of commerce.
So, watch the credit market. A lot of people are focusing on Libor.
I'm far less focused on Libor. You know why? The banks can borrow from the central bank. They don't need to borrow from one another.
So banks are borrowing from the central bank, but where's the new credit? Banks are struggling to find the capacity to finance the loans they've already promised, let alone new loans.
Q: Should investors be looking for bargains to buy shipping stocks?
Rose: These companies have all been hit by a tsunami that was not of their making. All of a sudden, they cannot get credit to load ships. This is not the ship owners' fault. Our analyst downgraded the group over the summer, based on the price of commodities coming down, which was an indicator for him of ship cargoes going down as well. He did a great job.
How do you figure out what the bottom is? Watch the credit markets. When the credit markets open, there'll be enormous buying opportunities. ... There's been huge wealth destruction, as a result of the credit markets being seized. When the credit markets open, then we'll have an idea of what real value is in the marketplace."
We could point to many more individual national and global trends, in areas like real estate and employment in countries around the world, and generally they're all trending downward. All of them are reinforcing each other, in a very broad picture of a worldwide economy that's plunging downward with incredible momentum.
It's like a hundred-ton rock rolling downhill. There's nothing that can stop it.
Certainly the $700 billion Washington bailout hasn't slowed it down at all, and has had almost no noticeable effect whatsoever.
There's a very easy way to see this: If the bailout were easing the credit crisis in any meaningful way, it would be touted by government leaders around the globe, and it would be worldwide front page news. Instead, all we've heard about is a barely significant fall in the Libor interest rates, and even that's ending, as Libor is now inching back up.
Starting in 1995 with the dot-com bubble, the world began creating more money through the creation of bubbles. It's hard to measure exactly how much money was created, but we can take some reasonable guesses.
The dot-com bubble of the late 1990s probably created around $1 trillion in new money, through stock options, stock appreciation, venture capital, and similar things. However, a lot of that $1 trillion was destroyed with the Nasdaq crash that began in the year 2000.
The dot-com bubble was an almost pure Boomer play. The major bubbles formed when the Generation-Xers were filling middle-management positions throughout the economy, in the early 2000s.
Fraud and deception took place at all levels. At the lowest level, homebuyers lied on loan applications, builders, appraisers and brokers lied about property values, and loan brokers lied about verifying application claims. At upper levels, "financial engineers" took the fraudulently created loans and securitized into collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) and other securities that have turned out to be worthless. They took fat commissions to sell these worthless securities, and they received cooperation from ratings agencies who took fat commissions to give them phony AAA ratings, and from "monoline" insurance agencies who took fat commissions to give them phony insurance.
We can make some reasonable guesses that the real estate bubble created about $5 trillion in new money, through inflated real estate prices. The securitization process created $25 trillion in CDOs and other near-worthless mortgage-backed securities.
Then we have the insurance contracts, the credit default swaps, or CDSs. There are about $60 trillion of those in portfolios around the world.
(For those interested in the math behind the creation of CDOs from CDSs, see "A primer on financial engineering and structured finance." For a discussion of credit default swap (CDS) counterparty risk, see "Brilliant Nobel Prize winners in Economics blame credit bubble on 'the news.'")
Finally, we have other credit derivatives of various kinds. These add up to about $1 quadrillion (1,000 trillion dollars), according to the Bank of International Settlements (BIS).
And so, depending on what you count, the credit bubble has been bloated with at least tens or hundreds of trillions of dollars in new money, mostly in the form of bad securities.
Pieces of this credit bubble have been leaking. The real estate bubble began deflating in 2005. CDOs and other mortgage-backed securities began to be revalued early in 2007. By late 2007, the stock market bubble began deflating. Early in 2008, there was the Bear Stearns rescue, followed by a number of other financial services bailouts, bankruptcies and mergers. In the last few months, the rate of forced selling by hedge funds, and withdrawals from money market and mutual funds has been increasing.
So we had a period of several years where the credit bubble grew to hundreds of trillions of dollars, probably adding a few trillion dollars per week, at the height of its growth.
Today, I would guess that the same credit bubble is deflating at the rate of $1 trillion or more per week.
So now we have a $700 billion bailout, 7/10 of $1 trillion. That amount of money disappears every three or four days.
So there isn't a snowflake's chance in hell that any bailout can possibly keep up the leaking of the credit bubble. It is literally impossible.
That's why every bailout must fail.
A forum member claimed that there would be no stock market crash because Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke would do whatever is necessary to prevent it. He quoted from a 2002 Ben Bernanke speech to prove his point:
It really depresses me to read this speech, because it exhibits such a shallow understanding of the 1930s Great Depression from a man who is theoretically the world's leading expert on it.
The 1920s stock market bubble was smaller, by several orders of magnitude, than the credit bubble that we have today, and so the deflationary spiral that followed the 1929 crash was not as big as the one we're facing.
Bernanke talks about inflationary measures that were taken in 1933-34. Well, that was 4-5 years after the deflationary spiral had begun. By that time, the deflationary spiral had run its course, and reflation would have begun no matter what FDR had done.
By contrast, Bernanke has opened the liquidity floodgates in this past year, right at the beginning of the deflationary spiral, and it's done almost nothing to stop the deflationary spiral today. Perhaps, if he's lucky, President Obama can find a way to take credit for reflating the currency when its time comes, around 2012-13.
Let Bernanke try anything he wants. It will accomplish nothing.
A lot of people have been predicting that the current crisis is going to make the dollar become worthless. Some have predicted hyperinflation, along the lines of Germany in the early 1920s, or Zimbabwe today.
But there was no deflating credit bubble in either of those two cases. The reason that the dollar is becoming more valuable is because there's less money in the world every day, and so the dollar is becoming scarcer. As the dollar becomes scarcer, it becomes more valuable.
I hear politicians and financial ideologues (especially from the so-called "Austrian school") that apply 19th century concepts to the current situation and conclude that the dollar will become worthless. That might be true in the absence of a deflating credit bubble, but it is not true today.
Thus, there should be no surprise at all that the dollar continues to strengthen sharply against almost all currencies (except the yen), and also continues to strengthen against "safe havens" like gold.
When I make statements like this, people accuse me of being nationalistic. That has nothing to do with it. The strengthening of the dollar has to do with only one thing: The leaking of the credit bubble, resulting in a deflationary spiral that strengthens the value of the dollar.
Here's a question from the forum:
To understand this, you have to look at the dollar from the point of view of another currency, like the euro or yen.
If you hold euros, and you want to buy dollars, and dollars are getting scarcer and scarcer, then by the law of supply and demand the price of dollars in euros is going to increase, which means that dollars become more valuable relative to the euro.
Therefore, the exchange rate (euros per dollar) will go up, meaning that it's the euro that's inflating relative to the dollar, while the dollar is deflating relative to the euro.
Here's another question from the forum (paraphrased):
Namely, 6 months ago the oil prices was double what they are today ($140 per barrel, against $70 roughly today). But, at the gas stations this nice reduction of prices - is NOT seen. The reduction is about 20-25% (at most!)"
The deflationary spiral is caused by the deflating of the massive credit bubble, and that was created by securitization of various kinds of flaky investments. Depending on how you count it, the credit bubble created tens or hundreds of trillions of dollars, or even $1 quadrillion.
However, all of these securitizations -- CDOs, CDSs, etc. -- all of them were denominated in dollars. Thus, the deflationary spiral now applies only to the dollar. As the credit bubble collapses, there are fewer and fewer dollars in the world, and dollars become more valuable relative to other currencies.
Thus, as expected, we've seen the dollar strengthen sharply against other currencies (except for the yen). In the case of the euro, the exchange rate was close to $1.60 a few months ago, and is now close to $1.30.
So there are two different things going on. The commodities prices, as denominated in dollars, have been falling sharply. But with other currencies weakening against the dollar, commodities prices denominated in those currencies have been falling far less.
So if we just take some round numbers, the fall in the price of oil in terms of the dollar is (1 - 70/140) = 50%.
In terms of the euro, it's 1 - (70/140 * (1.60/1.30)) = 38%.
That 38% is still a fairly large fall, and so you should have seen reductions at the gas pump, but not as great as at dollar-denominated gas pumps.
Beyond that, most countries charge fairly hefty tax rates for gas, you might want to check whether tax rates have changed in your country in the last few months.
Here's another reader question:
The easiest way to understand it is as follows: The dollar becomes scarcer, and therefore more valuable. So if another central bank wants its currently to maintain parity with the dollar, it would have to make that currency equally valuable, by withdrawing the currency, and making it scarcer. Of course, that would be politically impossible.
Here's another comment posted by a forum member:
From: Peter Schiff
To: firstname.lastname@example.org Sent: Tue, 21 Oct 2008 4:28 pm Subject: RE: Dollar discussion
I disagree in that the dollar is intrinsically worthless and will approximate that value based on the policies we are perusing.
"This is a response received from Peter Schiff regarding the dollar's eventual decline. At some point the bubble in treasuries will pop and the rest of the world will discontinue financing the USA debt and unfunded liabilities."
This claim makes absolutely no sense at all.
The US owes China, Japan and other countries $5 trillion.
If those countries were to take actions to destroy the value of the dollar, then the US would owe these countries nothing, since the debts are denominated in dollars.
China, Japan and the other countries will look for ways to bail out the US, just as the US bailed out many other countries in the past. They will do this not because they give a sh-t about Americans, but because they'll see it as the only way to save their own economies.
As a final point, you have to separate the fate of the US from the fate of the dollar. The fact that the US is in debt does not mean that the dollar becomes worthless.
If you haven't read the fascinating story of "The bubble that broke the world," then now is a good time to do so. It's the story of what happened in 1930 and 1931, when the world's central bankers got together to save the world from financial collapse.
However, when you read that story, and compare to the situation today, remember that America was a creditor nation in 1931, but a debtor nation today. The debtor nation in 1931 was Germany, and the creditor nation today is China. Thus, we should expect China today to act like America in 1931, and America today to act like Germany in 1931.
Central bankers in Britain, the US and France got together with a plan to prevent the financial collapse of Germany by injecting huge amounts of liquidity into the European banks. It worked for a while, but not for long.
If you look around the world at the major currencies, almost all of them are weakening against the dollar. The major exception is the Japanese yen, which is strengthening against almost every currency, including the dollar. Why is that?
The answer is that the yen is still suffering from Japan's own deflationary spiral. As I wrote recently, there was a huge stock market bubble in Japan in the 1980s, beginning around 1984. There was also a huge real estate bubble and, at its height, the total price of all property in Tokyo was greater than the total price of all property in the entire United States. That's how huge the Japanese bubble was.
Japan's generational stock market panic and crash occurred in 1990s, and the yen went into a deflationary spiral that last 16 years. In some ways, it's still continuing. So the yen is still on a roughly deflationary path, although at the end of that path.
And so the dollar is strong because it's at the beginning of a deflationary spiral, and the yen is strong because it's at the end of a deflationary spiral. This is not true of other currencies, and so other currencies are weakening against the dollar and the yen.
The main problem with the euro currency is that it's so new.
The euro currency, which only really came into existence in 1999, has not yet had enough time to gain stature as a full-fledged major international currency. In fact, it's always been possible for any individual euroland country to back out of the euro and return to its national currency, as I described in 2004, based on a Morgan Stanley report. (Can you imagine any US state trying to back out of the dollar currency, and print its own money?)
There's really no central control for the euro currency. Each country still has its own central bank and its own policy for printing euros, and some European countries (like Switzerland and Britain) don't even use the euro as an official currency.
Now the euro is approaching an imminent crisis, according to analysis by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, and there's a very interesting reason why.
The Europeans like to brag that, although they've had problems with investments in near-worthless mortgage-backed securities, they didn't risk nearly as much as the Americans did in the real estate bubble.
Well, it turns out that there's a completely different bubble that they did invest in: The Emerging Market Bubble.
While America invested $5 trillion in a real estate bubble, the Europeans invested $4.7 trillion in bonds from emerging market countries that will never repay the loans. These emerging market countries are in Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Asia.
Now that many of the emerging market stock markets are crashing (see list earlier in this article), the loss in value of these investments is creating tensions within euroland.
Austria's banks, for example, are heavily invested in Hungary, Ukraine, and Serbia -- countries that are close enough to bankruptcy that they're appealing for help from the IMF.
Banks in Switzerland, Sweden, Britain and Spain have invested astronomical amounts in Latin American bonds -- bonds that have little or no chance of repayment, as countries like Argentina and Brazil head for a freefall.
Because different euroland countries have different exposures, and because different euroland countries can set different banking interest rates, the opportunity exists for these interest rate differences to widen significantly, allowing enormous opportunity for exploitation by hedge funds.
Hans Redeker, currency chief at BNP Paribas, says that, "The system is paralysed, and it is starting to look like Black Wednesday in 1992. Iím afraid this is going to have a very deflationary effect on the economy of Western Europe. It is almost guaranteed that euroland money supply is about to implode."
The implosion of the euro is just one part of the massive event that's about to occur. This is the "generational panic and crash," the first since 1929, and now apparently very close.
Here's how I've described it several times in the past:
You'll have millions or even tens of millions of Boomers and Generation-Xers in countries around the world, never having seen anything like this before, not even believing it was possible, and in a state of total mass panic, trying to sell all at once. Computer systems will crash or will be clogged for hours, or perhaps even for a day or two. People who had hoped to get out just as the collapse is occurring will be totally screwed, and will lose everything. Brokers and other institutions will go bankrupt."
In the article I wrote about this last week, I quoted Nouriel Roubini, who is expecting officials to have to shut down markets for a week or two, and I quoted Art Cashin, who is expecting a "dramatic climax" within the next few days.
Cashin works for UBS AG as a floor manager, one of the old-timers on the New York Stock Exchange floor. He probably talks to hundreds of people a day, and reaches conclusions based on those conversations. What he's sensing is that something very big is coming. I heard him again when he was being interviewed late Friday, and he said that he's expecting "something major, something that will be remembered for generations."
From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, here's what to expect for the near future:
A lot of the discussion going on in Washington these days is on the question of what new regulations to develop in order to prevent this disaster from ever happening again.
From the point of view of generational theory, this is a joke. Nobody today would make try to securitize debt the way it was being done just last year, and if they tried, no one would buy the securities. People today are far more risk-averse, just as the survivors of the Great Depression were.
The survivors of the Great Depression passed new laws and regulations to make sure that nothing like the 1920s bubble would ever occur again. In fact, preventing another stock market bubble was the primary responsibility of the SEC, but nobody even cared when they failed to prevent the dot-com bubble.
So let them pass all the new rules and regulations they want. Those new rules and regulations would be irrelevant now, since no one would dare practice the same credit abuse as before. After enough time has passed, and people have forgotten the consequences of credit abuse, then the new rules and regulations will be repealed or ignored as "old-fashioned old people's laws."
(Comments: For reader comments, questions and discussion, as
well as more frequent updates on this subject, see the Financial Topics thread of the Generational Dynamics forum. Read
the entire thread for discussions on how to protect your money.)
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