Tag Archives: u.s. dollars

The Value of the U.S. Dollar

The Federal Reserve Board is printing money at an unprecedented rate. The ECB is following suit. The Bank of England and China are both cutting rates to spur their economies and global sovereign debt is piling up like manure behind the elephant pen. Clearly, our currency is being devalued by the day. Some would argue that there’s a race to devalue among the major global currencies as the G7 nations attempt to boost exports and spur their respective domestic economies. Tangible assets like gold and silver or soybeans and crude oil may be the only true stores of value left in an increasingly wayward world. We read this every day. The truth is far less dramatic. In an ugly world, the U.S. Dollar is the prettiest of the ugly sisters at the ball.

The U.S. Dollar Index is exactly where it was four years ago. This is interesting considering that the aggregate money supply in the U.S. as a result of the quantitative easing programs has nearly doubled since the housing market collapsed. Theoretically, doubling the supply of U.S. Dollars should mean that each new dollar is worth half as much. Take this one step further and it’s logical to assume that if each new dollar is worth half as much then it should take twice as many dollars to make the same purchases that were made in 2008 yet, the Consumer Price Index is only 4.5% higher than it was then. Finally, I would suggest that considering the growth of the money supply and its characteristic devaluation, we should see an influx of foreign direct investment picking up U.S. assets at bargain basement prices. While logical, this is also incorrect as the U.S. Department of Commerce shows that foreign direct investment only exceeded U.S. investment abroad in 6 out of the last 20 years with 2005 as the most recent.

What has happened through the artificial manipulation of interest rates in the world’s largest market is that the U.S. Dollar has begun attracting large amounts of money as U.S. and global investors park their cash while waiting for clarification on the world’s major financial and political issues. Real interest rates in the U.S. are negative at least 10 years out. The Euro Zone is no closer to resolution. China is in the midst of changing leadership in a softening economy. Finally, what was an assured re-election of President Obama is now a legitimate race.

The inflows to the U.S. Dollar are easily tracked through the commercial trader positions published weekly by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The U.S. Dollar Index contract has a face value of $100,000 dollars. Commercial traders have purchased more than 25,000 contracts in the last few weeks, now parking an additional $25 billion dollars. The build in this position can also be seen in their selling of the Euro, Japanese Yen and Canadian Dollars. The Dollar Index is made up of these currencies by 57%, 13% and 9%, respectively. Collectively, commercial selling in these markets adds another $5 billion to their long U.S. Dollar total. The magnitude of these moves makes commercial traders the most bullish they’ve been on the U.S. Dollar since August of last year which immediately led to a 7.5% rally in the U.S. Dollar in September.

The degree of bullishness by the commercial traders in the U.S. Dollar forces us to examine the markets most closely related to it in order to monitor the spillover effect a rally in the Dollar might create. The stock market has traded opposite the Dollar for all but four weeks in the last two years. The last time these markets traded in the same direction on a monthly basis is August of 2008. The current correlation values of – .29 weekly and -.43 monthly suggest that for every 1% higher the Dollar moves, the S&P500 should fall by .29% and .43%, respectively. Therefore, a bullish Dollar outlook must be coupled with a bearish equity market forecast.

Finally, we see the same type of relationship building in the Treasury markets. The U.S. Dollar is positively correlated to the U.S. Treasury market. This makes all the sense in the world considering foreign holdings of U.S. debt have increased over 5% through the first seven months of 2012 (Fed’s most recent data). The bulk of these foreign purchases of U.S. debt are repatriated immediately to eliminate currency exchange risk. This process of sterilization forces interest rates and the Dollar to trade in roughly the same direction. This relationship turned briefly negative between April and June of this year on a weekly basis while one has to go back to March of 2010 to find a negative correlation at the monthly level.

Obviously, the trade here is to buy the U.S. Dollar. The negative speculative sentiment coupled with the bullish and growing position of the commercial traders could fuel a forceful rally. Small speculators typically accumulate their largest positions and are the most wrong at the major turning points. A recent study in the Wall Street Journal discussing individual traders’ biggest mistakes puts it succinctly. Small traders’ biggest mistakes, accounting for 60% of the total responses are being too late to get in and too cautious to take the next trade. Once burnt from exiting the last trade too late, the small investor is too scared jump in the next trade which reinforces the negative feedback loop they typically end up stuck in. Take advantage of this analysis and at least, prepare yourself with an alternate game plan.

This blog is published by Andy Waldock. Andy Waldock is a trader, analyst, broker and asset manager. Therefore, Andy Waldock may have positions for himself, his family, or, his clients in any market discussed. The blog is meant for educational purposes and to develop a dialogue among those with an interest in the commodity markets. The commodity markets employ a high degree of leverage and may not be suitable for all investors. There is substantial risk of loss in investing in futures.

Global Glut Going Nowhere

The drop in gas prices over the last month has been a relief to us all. The economic sanctions placed by the European Union, Canada and the U.S. on Iran has simply shifted the flow of Iranian crude oil from west to east. The net result has been more oil on the global market with China, India and Russia picking up cheaper oil from Iran due to the lack of competition from western buyers. One would think that cheaper oil to the BRIC countries would be just the catalyst needed to help them develop their own internal demand for goods and services through the creation and evolution of their own middle class. Unfortunately, we are in an economic phase of global deleveraging and even the stimulus of low fuel prices will not keep their engines turning fast enough to save us from a second half slowdown here in the U.S.

The thesis of those who run our economy has been: If we can just provide enough economic grease to keep our own wheels turning the development of BRIC economies will, eventually, create demand for our goods and services. This is still probably true in the long run and the forward demand projection can be used to our advantage through tracking commercial trader purchases via the commitment of traders report. What a different world it has become when our economic horse has become hitched to someone else’s wagon.

China has been trying to engineer a soft landing for their economy through government expenditures on infrastructure and the attraction of foreign direct investment. The struggle can be seen in their manufacturing output, which has declined for seven straight months. They’ve also lowered their lending reserve requirement to stimulate financing which has dropped by 19% year over year and is at its slowest pace since Q1 of 2007. This may simply add further capacity to an already slack market in the wake of China’s 15-year building boom. This is also a futile attempt to increase home ownership, as home ownership is one of the few ways Chinese people have been allowed to invest their newfound prosperity and therefore, already represents an outsized portion of their personal portfolios. The Chinese result will sacrifice its citizens as the high water mark buyers and lead to further class separation between the builders who profited and the people who got stuck with the bill. This will leave them with little disposable income to buy our Apple computers and Fords.

The Chinese situation looks hopeful compared to India. The trouble in India is as much political as it is structural. Indian politics are confusing even to the Indian newspapers. It’s easy to go from the Times of India to India Press or any one of their nearly 2,000 daily publications and find contradictory information. Foreign businesses find it nearly impossible to find the right agencies for the right permits. Even if one does, it is quite possible that the rules will not only change but, be made retroactive thus, invalidating the entire business plan of the entity that just put the whole package together. This is exactly what happened to Wal-Mart between December of 2011 and February of this year. Permits were voided and taxes created by the new policy were made retroactive. Foreign direct investment is drying up rather than fighting its way through the bureaucratic red tape.

This still leaves Brazil and Russia to save us. Brazil just passed England to become the sixth largest global economy. However, Brazil’s balance of trade slipped into negative territory early this year for the first time since the economic crisis and once again ten years prior to that. Furthermore, their latest GDP readings were just positive enough, 0.34% to escape the technicality of recession. They are battling the decline by cutting interest rates for the seventh time in a row. This easing cycle has seen their rates decline by more than 400 basis points, including May’s cut.

Finally, Russia’s economy is shepherded by the fluctuations of natural resource prices on one hand and Vladimir Putin’s political inclinations on the other. The Russian shadow economy remains one of the largest physical cash exchanges in the world. The government recently limited official cash transactions to approximately $20,000 U.S.  Dollars. The political confusion has led to a flight of foreign capital out of the country. Putin’s sincerest desire seems to be the development of a quasi socialist Russia in which the natural resources are shipped abroad by governmentally monitored, semi state controlled companies. Putin then wants access to these revenues to fund his own programs and basically, become the Arab peninsula of natural resources while triangulating politically with Iran and China.

It doesn’t matter whose horse we hitch our wagons to if we’re all headed down the same path. The global balance sheet expansion experiment that hasn’t worked worth a darn in Japan is now being replicated in Europe just as it has been put to work here in the U.S. The world will pull through it and those countries that have been willing to make the tough choices, either through an enlightened electorate body or, the tight fisted hand of an autocratic leader will be the first ones to rebound. Our future, I’m afraid, looks more like the path of Japan’s lost generation than ever.

Pandora’s Grecian Riddle

This blog is published by Andy Waldock. Andy Waldock is a trader, analyst, broker and asset manager. Therefore, Andy Waldock may have positions for himself, his family, or, his clients in any market discussed. The blog is meant for educational purposes and to develop a dialogue among those with an interest in the commodity markets. The commodity markets employ a high degree of leverage and may not be suitable for all investors. There is substantial risk in investing in futures.

 

Pandora’s Grecian Riddle

Here’s a riddle for you. What could make the U.S. Dollar and Gold rally while keeping short term interest rates exceptionally low, in the face of a bleak domestic economy?

The answer: bigger troubles overseas finally finding their way into the light.

I have said for the last 6 months that there is big trouble brewingin Old Europe and the Mediterranean. Many of you who absorb information fromsources other than CNBC and Fox Business channel are already aware that Greeceis on the verge of catastrophe. Members of the EU met in Brussels yesterday,February 15th for the primary purpose of discussing what to do withGreece’s inability to bring their budget in line with national their nationaldebt expenditures, currently totaling about 300 million Euros. They will alsoneed to secure financing of more than 50 million Euros to maintain operationsthrough the end of this year. Currently, their deficit represents about 12.7%of GDP. Jean- Claude Trichet and the rest of the EU policymakers want thisnumber to be brought down to 4% for 2010. It is my understanding that there isa tacit agreement among members of the EU that deficit financing cannot accountfor more than 3% of GDP for EU members.

To put this in perspective, our debt levels here in the U.S. arerunning at approximately the same percentages as Greece. This would be theequivalent of the U.S. cutting its budget deficit, currently around $1.3trillion by more than $550 billion both this year and next. Can you imagine thecivil unrest this would create or, what it would mean to Medicare, welfare orsocial security? How about schools, police forces and the postal service? Thisis what the approximate proposal by the EU would cause in Greece.

Obviously, the next thought is, “its Greece. So what? How badcould it be?” Remember that we’re talking approximately 300 billion Euros.According to John Mauldin, this represents 2.7% of European GDP. Remember BearStearns? They held less than 2% of U.S. banking assets. The issue here is thatthe other members of the European Union would not have the collectivecoordination to operate swiftly and decisively in the event of contagion.Russia in 1998 had a very clear operating system. Decisions were made anddirectives were carried out. Argentina in 2002 was also able to implement thedefault, restructure, revalue and grow procedure within less than a year.However, according to yesterday’s meeting, as reported in both “The Guardian”and the “Telegraph,” there is virtually no consensus among what should be done.The mandate to cut debt was issued but, what enforcement power is there tocarry it out? How long will the other nations allow the European Union as awhole to be seen as impotent in the world financial markets?

Of course, Greece has choices. Most plausibly, they agree to EU concessions and implement them fractionally – like the teenage child that whose completion of the chore list is underwhelming, to say the least. Secondly, they could default on their debt. This would throw the country into a depression.However, unlike Russia and Argentina, who both had a wealth of natural resources to fall back on, over 75% of Greece’s GDP comes from the service sector and less than 4% comes from natural resources, which consist mainly ofagriculture. Therefore, they will not be able export their way to economic recovery the way the Russia and Argentina have. Finally, they could vote to remove themselves from the European Union. The benefits would include a devaluation of their debt and an instant competitive edge in labor pricing.Unfortunately, any savings – monetary or land (mark-to-market), left in Greece would be devalued immediately and it would leave them unable to securefinancing on the open market for quite some time.

Going back to where we started, I asked the question, “What would make the Dollar and Gold rally while keeping short term U.S. interest rates low?” As of this morning, (2/16/10), European Union leaders have broken offtalks with Greece over what to do. A Grecian default would place a huge strain on Germany, Switzerland and France, the three primary holders of Grecian debt(Mauldin). Great Britain and Spain are stuck dealing with their own problemsand the Swiss won’t get involved. If the EU were to bail out Greece, what wouldIreland say? Here in the U.S. we arbitrarily chose to save some firms and letothers fall by the wayside. Think Bear Stearns versus Goldman. The fallout was substantial. I can’t imagine the political chess game that involves picking which country to save and allowing which one to fail. From a tradingperspective, and this is about trading – not political rhetoric, this eventwill create uncertainty in the financial markets. Holders of Euros will diversify. Whether they buy U.S. Dollars directly or, simply move money out ofthe Euro and into other currencies, this action will devalue the Euro. Furthermore,this uncertainty will attract more money to Gold. Finally, uncertainty in theEuro Currency will reassert the U.S. debt markets as king, thus keeping short term rates low for the foreseeable future.

Any questions, please call.Andy Waldock866-990-0777