Friday, January 23, 2009

More news on the dollar

After yesterday's brief discussion on the future of the dollar, there are three major articles today on the subject.

First, the Wall Street Journal takes issue with the presumptive replacement for Tim Geithner at the New York Fed- a Mr. William Dudley.

One of the Fed's most important tasks in coming months will be deciding when to remove the oceans of liquidity that it has been pushing into the economy to fight off a deeper recession. Remove it too late once the recovery begins, and the Fed will risk creating new asset bubbles or a run on the dollar. Yet as chief economist for many years at Goldman Sachs, Mr. Dudley consistently supported a weak dollar in the name of reducing the U.S. trade deficit.

This is a dangerous message to send at any time, but in particular as the new Administration embarks on an epic spending spree that will require from $2 trillion to $3 trillion in new U.S. borrowing over the next two years. The world's creditors aren't likely to lend as much, or as cheaply, if they think their dollar assets will be debased as a matter of U.S. policy.
Reuter's provides a contrasting view- that Geithner and Obama face a daunting, but vital, task of persuading the world that they intend to maintain a strong-dollar policy.

"This time around the administration probably means it when it says it backs a strong dollar. They have to be dead serious about it," said Samarjit Shankar, a director for global strategy at the Bank of New York Mellon, in Boston.

"Trillions worth of U.S. debt is coming soon to the markets. Which foreign central bank or institution will buy this debt if they are not fully convinced the dollar will remain strong?" he added.

The challenge for Obama's team, analysts said, will be to support the dollar's value without direct manipulation in the markets, with the economy in recession, interest rates near zero, and a ballooning current account deficit.

Moreover, Washington will have to achieve all that without antagonizing China, the biggest holder of U.S. Treasury debt, the analysts said.

"It will be a real test. One thing is to finance a $450 billion deficit and another is to finance $2 trillion," said Chris Rupkey, a senior financial economist at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi in New York.

And finally, a wonderful op-ed piece from Peter Schiff.

Barack Obama has spoken often of sacrifice. And as recently as a week ago, he said that to stave off the deepening recession Americans should be prepared to face "trillion dollar deficits for years to come."

But apart from a stirring call for volunteerism in his inaugural address, the only specific sacrifices the president has outlined thus far include lower taxes, millions of federally funded jobs, expanded corporate bailouts, and direct stimulus checks to consumers. Could this be described as sacrificial?

What he might have said was that the nations funding the majority of America's public debt -- most notably the Chinese, Japanese and the Saudis -- need to be prepared to sacrifice. They have to fund America's annual trillion-dollar deficits for the foreseeable future. These creditor nations, who already own trillions of dollars of U.S. government debt, are the only entities capable of underwriting the spending that Mr. Obama envisions and that U.S. citizens demand.

These nations, in other words, must never use the money to buy other assets or fund domestic spending initiatives for their own people. When the old Treasury bills mature, they can do nothing with the money except buy new ones. To do otherwise would implode the market for U.S. Treasurys (sending U.S. interest rates much higher) and start a run on the dollar. (If foreign central banks become net sellers of Treasurys, the demand for dollars needed to buy them would plummet.)

In sum, our creditors must give up all hope of accessing the principal, and may be compensated only by the paltry 2%-3% yield our bonds currently deliver.

As absurd as this may appear on the surface, it seems inconceivable to President Obama, or any respected economist for that matter, that our creditors may decline to sign on. Their confidence is derived from the fact that the arrangement has gone on for some time, and that our creditors would be unwilling to face the economic turbulence that would result from an interruption of the status quo.

But just because the game has lasted thus far does not mean that they will continue playing it indefinitely. Thanks to projected huge deficits, the U.S. government is severely raising the stakes. At the same time, the global economic contraction will make larger Treasury purchases by foreign central banks both economically and politically more difficult.

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