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CURRENCY AND DEBT MARKETS

CURRENCY AND DEBT MARKETS

Last week, we had a short-lived rally in the U.S. dollar predicated on the unrealistic view that a weaker U.S. economy would send gold and oil down and the dollar up. Only algorithm writers who are completely ignorant about stock and commodity markets could believe that a poor U.S. economy is actually good for the U.S. dollar.

Last week, we had a short-lived rally in the U.S. dollar predicated on the unrealistic view that a weaker U.S. economy would send gold and oil down and the dollar up.  Only algorithm writers who are completely ignorant about stock and commodity markets could believe that a poor U.S. economy is actually good for the U.S. dollar.

After a few days, the dollar’s rally reversed and began to decline again while gold and oil are once again rising.  In our opinion, any declines in oil and gold prices over the next few months can be used as buying opportunities.

We expect oil to trade between $60 and $100 per barrel for the next two years.  After that, we expect oil prices to rise much higher.

We favor gold bullion and gold shares, oil stocks, U.S. technology companies that are poised to serve the world market through exports, and companies in emerging countries with growth potential.

INTEREST RATES

Last week, interest rates were forced up by the market, with the yield for U.S. ten year paper rising as the Treasury tried to sell $140 billion of new bonds.  Buyers are demanding higher rates, but the U.S. government is not going to raise short term rates until GDP growth increases substantially and remains good for a year or more.  Although the market may continue to force up longer term interest rates, we do not expect the Federal Reserve to raise short term rates.

Indeed, the U.S. Federal Reserve wants interest rates to stay low.  They realize that this is necessary to support asset values (even if they only move sideways).  A U.S. asset deflation occurred in 2008 and 2009, and the government is trying desperately to reverse the trend.  Although the stock market has succeeded in making a turnaround, real estate, cars, and many other asset prices remain deflated.

When it comes to keeping rates low and letting asset values rise, the U.S. Government clearly has a favorite method.  They prefer to depreciate the unit of measurement: the U.S. Dollar.

Most commodities are valued in dollars, so if one weakens the dollar, prices rise in U.S. terms, but many are falling in terms of strong foreign currencies, gold, oil and other stores of values.  While asset deflation continues in other currencies, asset prices have been rising in dollar terms.

CURRENCY CARRY TRADE

The currency carry trade occurs when investors borrow a given currency (let’s say the dollar) at very low interest rate and use the borrowed money to buy other currencies, stocks, and commodities.  It also occurs when and investors sell dollars short and later buy them back with depreciated dollars.  The carry trade is dependent on both interest rates and the value of the dollar.  And it has been one of the biggest factors responsible for the stock market rally in recent weeks.

The dollar’s recent rally has some believing the carry trade is winding down.  Perhaps fear of the big budget deficits and the low demand for U.S. Government bonds is causing investors to expect U.S. interest rates to rise sooner.  When the fear of rising interest rates pervades the markets, this causes speculators to unwind their carry trade by buying dollars back and selling their stocks and commodities.  In other words, the “carry trade” and the stock market rally are being endangered by potential higher interest rates caused by the big budget deficits.

We do not know if the market has reached its highs for 2009, but we do know that a small wave of fear is once again washing through investment markets.  The big decline of 2008 and early 2009 was cathartic.  The rally from this cathartic bottom has been normal, so any correction in global stocks and associated commodities will be short lived.  Perhaps short-term fears of a technical market correction causes speculators to cut borrowing (on which the carry trade depends), and to sell stock positions.

U.S. DEBT

The Economist magazine echoes many of our arguments regarding U.S. debt and deficits.

Last week’s Economist magazine had an important article entitled “Tomorrows Burden: Americas Debt Crisis will be Chronic Not Acute, and Long Lasting.”  The article elucidates many of the points that we have repeatedly made in our commentaries over the last several years.  It is well written, and I will take the liberty of paraphrasing the main points.

The author makes the point that there are three things that could lead to an acute crisis:

1.) A lender’s strike (no debt available)

2.) A crash in the dollar (possible not probable immediately)

3.) A rise in inflation (this seems remote to the Economist. It does not seem remote to us.)

The authors reason that the debt crisis will be long-lasting and chronic, but not acute.  That is unless one of these three issues develops.  We believe that we could experience all three of the above within a couple of years.  For those who would like to read the entire article, please see this link: http://www.economist.com/displayStory.cfm?story_id=14699754

THE NEXT U.S. FINANCIAL CRISIS IS ALREADY ON THE WAY.

It will be an inflationary crisis, and it will commence about 2012.

The U.S. Government has guaranteed banks and the housing market.  It has borrowed hundreds of billions of dollars to strengthen the economy at the same time tax revenues are collapsing.  Social Security and health care financing will add to the burdens.  The banking crisis will probably turn into a long-term government debt crisis.

The United States has been living beyond its means, over-borrowing, and engaging in other irrational, unwise, and destructive behaviors.  These behaviors have been encouraged and abetted by the Congress, former Federal Reserve Chairman Greenspan, and both Republican and Democratic administrations.  A less powerful country, perhaps one which was not providing a military shield for much of the world, would have seen their currency and debt markets subjected to immense scrutiny and widespread suspicion and may have been forced to default long ago.

History has demonstrated two likely outcomes for the situation in which the U.S. currently finds itself.  The first is that bond and currency market speculators make default the inevitable outcome.  The second is that they devalue their currency substantially in order to pay back their debts in a diminished currency.  The day approaches when the U.S. dollar will meet the fate that so many other currencies have faced over the millennia…it will suffer a substantial decline and inflation will resurge.  This will probably occur no later than the end of 2012.

DEBT MARKETS

Contrary to the beliefs of some efficient market theorists, financial markets can remain highly irrational for extended periods of time.  Few things prove this better than the behavior of the U.S. debt market.

The reality is that investors should be scared of the U.S. debt market.  The U.S. continues to go to the markets with bond offerings, financing huge sums of borrowing to feed its ravenous appetite for spending that far exceeds the means of the taxpayers…or the logic of markets.

The markets continue to support the dollar beyond a reasonable level.  This support can be partially explained by the many relationships and financial activities the U.S. Government currently undertakes.  Over the years, the U.S. military’s largess and the dollar’s status as a world reserve currency have helped sustain the value of the dollar.  For example, the U.S. still incurs a large percentage of the military protection costs of Germany and Japan 64 years after the end of World War II.

The value of the dollar has also been preserved because the major debt holders; Japan, China, Saudi Arabia, and Britain are large exporters to the U.S. and/or those that are allied with the U.S. militarily.  Below is a chart from the U.S. Treasury Department:

ForeignHoldersofUSTBILLS-1.jpg picture by gimmarketing

LEVERAGE IN THE BANKING SYSTEM

Remember the terrible banking crisis of 2008-2009 that brought down Bear Sterns, Lehman, and Washington Mutual, and threatened others in the U.S. and Europe?  You haven’t forgotten, and we haven’t forgotten, but it seems that Congress has.  What’s more, they are squandering an opportunity to repair and revitalize the U.S banking system.  Today, the U.S. banking system continues to be dangerously speculative and interconnected.  Banks deny credit needed for small business, the major driver of employment, while engaging in unproductive speculation.  And although this is clearly a serious defect in the system, Congress has failed to address it.

Even more disconcerting is that the banking lobby has Congress’ ears.  Instead of listening to the proven, wise, and honest former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, Congress is listening to the folks that brought us the last crisis.  So when Volcker makes the reasonable suggestion that banks and speculative trading activities should be separated, and that only banks with no involvement in trading for their own account should get government guarantees and bail outs, Congress isn’t listening.  Sadly, we fear that Congress’ unwillingness to face down the banking lobby guarantees that a new crisis is on the agenda for future years.

This is in sharp contrast to Holland, where the country’s largest bank is forced to sell its U.S. Internet banking operations and its insurance company in order to attain and maintain the use of government funds.  In Britain, the trend toward breaking up large banks is being pushed by the top economists at the Bank of England, and in other countries there are demands that banks stop speculation for their own account.  In our opinion, disallowing speculation by commercial banks is the only effective method to forestall the next system-wide financial crisis.

Thank you for listening and please do not hesitate to contact us with your suggestions.


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