Category Archives: Currencies

The Death Of Petrodollars and The Coming Renaissance Of Macro Investing, by John Curran

Remember two-way markets? They seem like a thing of the past, but John Curran says not so fast. From Curran at Barron’s via zerohedge.com:

The petrodollar system is being undermined by exponential growth in technology and shifting geopolitics. What comes next is a paradigm shift

In the summer of 1974, Treasury Secretary William Simon traveled to Saudi Arabia and secretly struck a momentous deal with the kingdom. The U.S. agreed to purchase oil from Saudi Arabia, provide weapons, and in essence guarantee the preservation of Saudi oil wells, the monarchy, and the sovereignty of the kingdom. In return, the kingdom agreed to invest the dollar proceeds of its oil sales in U.S. Treasuries, basically financing America’s future federal expenditures.

Soon, other members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries followed suit, and the U.S. dollar became the standard by which oil was to be traded internationally. For Saudi Arabia, the deal made perfect sense, not only by protecting the regime but also by providing a safe, liquid market in which to invest its enormous oil-sale proceeds, known as petrodollars. The U.S. benefited, as well, by neutralizing oil as an economic weapon. The agreement enabled the U.S. to print dollars with little adverse effect on interest rates, thereby facilitating consistent U.S. economic growth over the subsequent decades.

An important consequence was that oil-importing nations would be required to hold large amounts of U.S. dollars in reserve in order to purchase oil, underpinning dollar demand. This essentially guaranteed a strong dollar and low U.S. interest rates for a generation.

To continue reading: The Death Of Petrodollars and The Coming Renaissance Of Macro Investing

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De-dollarization Not Now, by Wolf Richter

All sorts of foreign governments, including emerging market governments, are borrowing in dollars. What could go wrong? For one thing, the dollar could strengthen.  But don’t currency rates usually go the direction governments want them to? From Wolf Richter at wolfstreet.com:

USD-denominated debt outside the US hits record – even junk bonds.

China announced today that it would sell $2 billion in government bonds denominated in US dollars. The offering will be China’s largest dollar-bond sale ever. The last time China sold dollar-bonds was in 2004.

Investors around the globe are eager to hand China their US dollars, in exchange for a somewhat higher yield. The 10-year US Treasury yield is currently 2.34%. The 10-year yield on similar Chinese sovereign debt is 3.67%.

Credit downgrade, no problem. In September, Standard & Poor’s downgraded China’s debt (to A+) for the first time in 19 years, on worries that the borrowing binge in China will continue, and that this growing mountain of debt will make it harder for China to handle a financial shock, such as a banking crisis.

Moody’s had already downgraded China in May (to A1) for the first time in 30 years. “The downgrade reflects Moody’s expectation that China’s financial strength will erode somewhat over the coming years, with economy-wide debt continuing to rise as potential growth slows,” it said.

These downgrades put Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s on the same page with Fitch, which had downgraded China in 2013.

But the Chinese Government doesn’t exactly need dollars. On October 9th, it reported that foreign exchange reserves – including $1.15 trillion in US Treasuries, according the US Treasury Department – rose to $3.11 trillion at the end of September, an 11-month high, as its crackdown on capital flight is bearing fruit (via Trading Economics):

So why does China want these $2 billion in US dollars? For one, they’re still cheap, given the low yield, which is expected to rise as the Fed has started to unwind QE. And two, China might be interested in creating a benchmark for dollar-bond trading in China that could help set prices for Chinese corporate debt denominated in dollars. And there’s a lot of it.

To continue reading: De-dollarization Not Now

Hard Core Doom Porn, by Robert Gore

It will be a crash like we’ve never seen before.

SLL has been accused of trafficking in “doom porn.” Guilty as charged. If you don’t like doom porn, don’t read this article, it’s hard core. If you prefer feel good and heartwarming, there are plenty of Wall Street research reports and mainstream media stories about the economy available. Enjoy!

In 1971, President Nixon closed the “gold window,” which allowed foreign governments to exchange their dollars for gold. This severed the last link between any government and central bank-created debt and the real economy. Debt could be conjured at whim, and governments and central banks have done so for the last 46 years.

Not surprisingly, credit creation without restraint has papered the globe with the greatest pile of debt mankind has ever amassed, measured in nominal terms or relative to the underlying economy. A measure of how extraordinary this situation is: most people regard it as normal, if they think of it all. Debt is a first mover, a financial constant. Any exigency small or large can be met from an unlimited credit pool that will always be with us. How to rebuild Houston, Florida, and Puerto Rico? No problem, borrow.

Although fiat credit creation by governments and central banks is unconnected to the real economy, its effects are not. Their debt becomes an asset within the financial system. Through fractional reserve banking, securitization, and derivatives it become the basis for a multiplication of the original debt. That multiplication is many times the multiplier (the reciprocal of the reserve requirement) taught in introductory macroeconomics classes whereby the debt is contained within the banking system.

Nominal global debt is reckoned at between $225 and $250 trillion, or about three times global GDP. Financial, debt-supported derivatives (financial instruments whose prices are derived from the prices of other financial instruments) are estimated at anywhere from $500 trillion to $1 quadrillion notational, or six to twelve times global GDP.

Overpriced houses did not cause the last financial crisis and almost bring down the world’s financial system, securitized packages of mortgages and their associated derivatives did. The Panglossian view of derivatives is that most of them can be netted out against offsetting derivatives, thus actual exposures are far less that notational amounts. The real world view is they can only be netted out as long as all counterparties remain solvent. As we learned in 2009, that is not always a correct assumption.

Globally, unfunded old age pension and medical liabilities, not counted as debt but still promises made that often have the force of law, sum to another $400 trillion. In the US, they are about $210 trillion, or about 11 times US GDP. Demographics amplify the liability: across the developed world, declining birth rates and extensions in life expectancies mean a shrinking pool of workers supports an expanding pool of beneficiaries. In the last month, SLL has posted four excellent articles by John Mauldin for those who want all the gruesome details. (Just enter John Mauldin in SLL’s search box and they’ll pop right up.)

This doom porn, the skeptics will say, is almost as old as Deep Throat (released in 1972). Markets crash from time to time, but they always bounce back. Central banks and governments come to the rescue with fiscal stimulus (increased government debt) and unlimited fiat debt. Why should we worry now?

There are a number of reasons. When the world was less indebted, a fiat currency unit’s worth of debt produced more than a fiat currency unit’s worth of expanded output of goods and services. Sometime within the last year or two, the marginal economic effectiveness of all that government and central bank debt reached zero, and is negative after debt service.

With the world saturated in debt, another fiat currency unit of debt produces no increase in output. Kick in the costs of servicing and repaying that debt, and increasing debt is actually retarding economic growth. It accounts for the long-term slowing growth trend, flat incomes, and “secular stagnation” that puzzle so many economists.

It also accounts for the lack of inflation that puzzles so many central bankers, at least in the price indexes they look at. They are looking at the wrong indexes. The relevant indicia are stock, high-grade bond, real estate, and cryptocurrency prices, still at or close to record highs, and corporate and securitized-debt credit spreads to treasury benchmarks at record lows (indicating massive complacency about corporate credit risk). Here inflation—the speculative kind that blows bubbles—is alive and thriving.

With the Federal Reserve now taking steps to shrink its balance sheet and other central banks making noises about doing the same, global fiat debt creation may go into reverse for the first time in many years. Brandon Smith at Alt-Market.com argues that this is part of plan leading to a crash and global, centralized monetary control.

He may or may not be on to something, however, valuation extremes and sentiment indicators point to the same conclusion concerning a crash. SLL maintains financial markets are exercises in crowd psychology, impervious to government and central bank efforts to control them, designed to separate the maximum number of speculators from a maximum amount of their money.

Robert Prechter, of Elliott Wave International, has written the chapter and the verse on markets and psychology. (SLL reviewed his groundbreaking tome, The Socionomic Theory of Finance.) Consider the following from Elliot Wave International’s October “Financial Forecast.”

Every month another sentiment indicator seems to pop to a frothy new extreme. Last month it was the percentage of cash that members of the American Association of Individual Investors harbored in their investment portfolios. At 14.5%, it was the smallest allocation to this safe alternative since January 2000, the same month that the Dow Industrials began a 38% decline that lasted through October 2002. Last month, we also showed a new bullish extreme for the five-day average of Market Vane’s Bullish Consensus survey of advisors. On September 15, the average pushed to 71%, a new ten-year extreme.

The most recent Commitment of Traders Report shows that Large Speculators in futures on the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) have amassed a record net- short position of 172,395 contracts.

This record bet on subdued volatility sets the stage perfectly for the period of “high volatility” that EWFF called for in August.

…Large Speculators in the E-mini DJIA futures have pushed their net-long position to 95,976 contracts, more than four times the number of contracts they held in January 2008, shortly after the Dow started its largest percentage decline since 1929. So, investors are betting to a record degree that the stock market will continue to rise and volatility will continue to remain subdued. Paradoxically, these measures indicate that exact opposite.

Various media accounts confirm that a rare complacency now dominates the stock market.

One doesn’t have to buy in to socionomics to realize that virtually everyone is now on the same side of the boat, a condition generally followed by the boat capsizing. Using conventional valuation measures, the only time stocks have been more highly valued is just before the tech wreck in 2000.

If one does buy into socionomics, the last few upward squiggles in the stock market will put the finishing touches on intermediate, primary, cycle, supercycle, and grand supercycle Elliot Waves dating back to 2016, 2009, 1974, 1932, and the 1780s, respectively. In other words, this is going to be a crash for the ages.

Given the unprecedented level of global debt, that appears to be the most likely scenario. Every financial asset in the world is either a debt claim or an even less secure equity claim—a claim on what’s left after debt is paid. Much of the world’s real, tangible assets are mortgaged.

When the debt bubble implodes, a global margin call will prompt forced selling, driving down all asset prices precipitously. Most of what is currently regarded as wealth will vanish. Opening up the world’s fiat debt spigots full force won’t stop this one. The notions that governments and central banks have speculators’ backs, that problems caused by excessive debt can be solved with more debt, will be revealed as monumental follies. And markets will not come back, at least in our lifetimes.

Long-time readers will point out that SLL has been issuing warnings for years. Again, guilty as charged. However, we’ll join Mr. Prechter and company in their prediction that US equity markets top out before the end of this year. (They called last year’s top in the government bond market, adding to an impressive list of correct calls.) If we’re wrong, it won’t be the first or last time. If we’re right, given the magnitude of what’s coming, being a few years early won’t matter at all. Our concluding clichés: fear is stronger than greed and markets go down much quicker than they go up.

Alt-Historical Fiction!

AMAZON

KINDLE

NOOK

Catalonia Chaos Begins to Squeeze Spain’s Financial Markets, by Don Quijones

Spain’s financial market participants are beginning to believe that there won’t be a quiet, easy solution to the Catalonia-Spain standoff. From Don Quijones at wolfstreet.com:

Spain’s biggest political crisis of a generation, which has led to the complete breakdown of communication and understanding between its government in Madrid and the separatist region of Catalonia, is finally beginning to take its toll on the country’s financial markets.

Spain’s benchmark index, the Ibex 35, slumped nearly 3% following its worst day of trading since the Brexit vote last June. Spain’s 10-year risk premium — the differential between the yield on its 10-year bonds and the yield on Germany’s 10-year bonds — soared to 129 basis points. And that’s despite the fact that the ECB continues to buy Spanish debt hand over fist.

But it is the banks that have borne the brunt of the pain this week. On Monday, the first trading day after the independence referendum, they lost €4.84 billion in market value. Over the past five trading days, shares of the two biggest Catalan-based banks, Caixabank and Banco de Sabadell, have plunged respectively, 9% and 13%.

So tense is the situation that the CEOs of each bank felt compelled to release a statement today reassuring customers that they have all the means and tools necessary to protect their interests. Their contingency plans include the option of abandoning their base of operations in Catalonia and moving elsewhere — to Madrid in the case of Sabadell and Mallorca in the case of Caixabank.

But it wasn’t just Catalan banks that were caught up in today’s rout. Important Spanish banks with somewhat less exposure to Catalonia also saw their shares plunge. Santander, Spain’s only global systemically important bank, was down 3.8% on the day’s trading; BBVA, Spain’s second bank which has important operations in Catalonia after acquiring the failed saving bank Catalunya Caixa in 2015, fell 3.6%; and Bankia was also down 3.6%.

Standard & Poor’s today put Catalonia’s credit rating — at B+/B, it’s already deep into junk — on review for a downgrade of one notch or more, “if we believed that escalating political tensions between Catalonia’s government and Spain’s central government could put in question the full and timely refinancing of Catalonia’s short-term debt instruments or undermine the effectiveness of the central government’s financial support to Catalonia.” The threat of default moves a step closer.

To continue reading: Catalonia Chaos Begins to Squeeze Spain’s Financial Markets

 

 

Challenging the Dollar: China and Russia’s Plan from Petroyuan to Gold, by Federico Pieraccini

The second in a three part series about the fall of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency and the decline of the American empire (Part One link). From Federico Pieraccini at strategic-culture.org:

As seen in my previous article, US military power is on the decline, and the effects are palpable. In a world full of conflicts brought on by Washington, the economic and financial shifts that are occurring are for many countries a long-awaited and welcome development.

If we were to identify what uniquely fuels American imperialism and its aspirations for global hegemony, the role of the US dollar would figure prominently. An exploration of the depth of the dollar’s effects on the world economy is therefore necessary in order to understand the consequential geopolitical developments that have occurred over the last few decades.

The reason the dollar plays such an important role in the world economy is due to the following three major factors: the petrodollar; the dollar as world reserve currency; and Nixon’s decision in 1971 to no longer make the dollar convertible into gold. As is easy to guess, the petrodollar strongly influenced the composition of the SDR basket, making the dollar the world reserve currency, spelling grave implications for the global economy due to Nixon’s decision to eliminate the dollar’s convertibility into gold. Most of the problems for the rest of the world began from a combination of these three factors.

Dollar-Petrodollar-Gold

The largest geo-economic change in the last fifty years was arguably implemented in 1973 with the agreement between OPEC, Saudi Arabia and the United States to sell oil exclusively in dollars.

Specifically, Nixon arranged with Saudi King Faisal for Saudis to only accept dollars as a payment for oil and related investments, recycling billions of excess dollars into US treasury bills and other dollar-based financial resources. In exchange, Saudi Arabia and other OPEC countries came under American military protection. It reminds one of a mafia-style arrangement: the Saudis are obliged to conduct business in US dollars according to terms and conditions set by the US with little argument, and in exchange they receive generous protection.

To continue reading: Challenging the Dollar: China and Russia’s Plan from Petroyuan to Gold

 

Cracks in Dollar Are Getting Larger, by Jim Rickards

Slowly but surely, the world is moving away from the dollar as the reserve currency. From Jim Rickards at dailyreckoning.com:

Many Daily Reckoning readers are familiar with the original petrodollar deal the U.S made with Saudi Arabia.

It was set up by Henry Kissinger and Saudi princes in 1974 to prop up the U.S. dollar. At the time, confidence in the dollar was on shaky ground because President Nixon had ended gold convertibility of dollars in 1971.

Saudi Arabia was receiving dollars for their oil shipments, but they could no longer convert the dollars to gold at a guaranteed price directly with the U.S. Treasury. The Saudis were secretly dumping dollars and buying gold on the London market. This was putting pressure on the bullion banks receiving the dollar.

Confidence in the dollar began to crack. Henry Kissinger and Treasury Secretary William Simon worked out a plan. If the Saudis would price oil in dollars, U.S. banks would hold the dollar deposits for the Saudis.

These dollars would be “recycled” to developing economy borrowers, who in turn would buy manufactured goods from the U.S. and Europe. This would help the global economy and help the U.S. maintain price stability. The Saudis would get more customers and a stable dollar, and the U.S. would force the world to accept dollars because everyone would need the dollars to buy oil.

Behind this “deal” was a not so subtle threat to invade Saudi Arabia and take the oil by force. I personally discussed these invasion plans in the White House with Kissinger’s deputy, Helmut Sonnenfeldt, at the time. The petrodollar plan worked brilliantly and the invasion never happened.

Now, 43 years later, the wheels are coming off. The world is losing confidence in the dollar again. China just announced that any oil-exporter that accepts yuan for oil can convert the oil to gold on the Shanghai Gold Exchange and hedge the hard currency value of the gold on the Shanghai Futures Exchange.

The deal has several parts, which together spell dollar doom. The first part is that China will buy oil from Russia and Iran in exchange for yuan.

The yuan is not a major reserve currency, so it’s not an especially attractive asset for Russia or Iran to hold. China solves that problem by offering to convert yuan into gold on a spot basis on the Shanghai Gold Exchange.

This straight-through processing of oil-to-yuan-to-gold eliminates the role of the dollar.

To continue reading: Cracks in Dollar Are Getting Larger

 

 

Stagnation Is Not Just the New Normal–It’s Official Policy, by Charles Hugh Smith

Soon, stagnation may look good. From Charles Hugh Smith at oftwominds.com:

Japan is a global leader in how to gracefully manage stagnation.

Although our leadership is too polite to say it out loud, they’ve embraced stagnation as the new quasi-official policy. The reason is tragi-comically obvious: any real reform would threaten the income streams gushing into untouchably powerful self-serving elites and fiefdoms.
In our pay-to-play centralized form of governance, any reform that threatens the skims, privileges and perquisites of existing elites and fiefdoms is immediately squashed, co-opted or watered down.
So the power structure of the status quo has embraced stagnation as a comfortable (except to those on the margins) and controllable descent that avoids the unpleasantness and uncertainty of crisis. We all know that humans quickly habituate to gradual changes in circumstances, and that if the changes are gradual enough, we have difficulty even noticing the erosion.
So wages/salaries stagnate, inflation eats away at the purchasing power of our net income, junk fees, tolls and taxes notch higher by increments too modest to trigger protest, fundamental civil liberties are chipped away one small piece at a time, healthcare costs rise every year like clockwork, and the gap between the bottom 95% and the top 5% widens, as does the gap between the top .1% and the bottom 99.9%, productivity stagnates, the growth rate of new businesses stagnates, but it’s all so gradual that we no longer notice except to sigh in resignation.
Japan is a global leader is how to gracefully manage stagnation. Here’s how Japan is managing to maintain a comfortable secular stagnation:
Japan’s central bank creates a ton of new currency every year, which it uses to buy Japan’s government debt/bonds. This keeps interest rates near-zero, so the cost of government borrowing is kept minimal.
This also gives the government a ton of new cash to spend that it doesn’t have to raise from additional taxes. The government then spends this “nearly free” money (i.e. deficit spending) to keep the whole stagnating machine glued together.