Getting Ready For A Dollar Collapse? (Wall Street Journal)

By Alen Mattich | WallStreetJournal.com

August 23, 2010, 1:26 PM GMT

Could the Federal Reserve’s decision to restart its quantitative easing program trigger a dollar collapse?

That’s what John Hussman, a fund manager, argues in his latest weekly note to investors. And the case he makes is strong… as long as one ignores the fact that other central banks don’t want and are unlikely to accept a big dollar devaluation.

Hussman notes that while, longer term, currencies tend to move to equalize purchasing power between different countries, most short-term foreign exchange fluctuations hinge on interest-rate differentials. Here, differences in inflation rates and yields on offer between countries will determine the flow of capital, which, in turn, will affect relative changes in currencies. So countries with relatively high interest rates can see their currencies trade well above where they should do according to purchasing power parity arguments.

So much for the theoretical background.

Hussman then notes that two thirds of the Fed’s balance sheet is made up of securities issued by government-sponsored enterprises, namely Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, that are being bailed out by the Treasury, which is to say these are holdings the Fed won’t be able to reverse easily. In other words, this represents the more or less permanent printing of new money.

When set against the fact that the government has lost control of its finances, the long-run inflationary threat posed by fiscal and monetary policy is huge. But the dollar’s position is made even more precarious by the zero interest rates being pursued by the Fed in response to economic weakness.

On an interest-rate parity basis, then, the dollar needs to depreciate rapidly and considerably–in order to offset the future inflationary surge and the current lack of yield.

But this is exactly what the U.S. economy needs, isn’t it? A dollar devaluation.

Well, yes, on purchasing power parity grounds, the dollar ought to be depreciating to improve the relative position of U.S. exporters. After all, the U.S. trade balance has been worsening lately, even as the economy’s rebound runs out of steam.

The problem is the speed of adjustment and the fact that a sudden dollar devaluation would likely overshoot its equilibrium level. In other words, the dollar could become too cheap too fast. Such a sudden and dramatic move could cause all sorts of disruptions and trigger a sudden and rampant bout of inflation.

And were the rest of the global economy in a healthy state and were exchange rates fully flexible, this is indeed what might happen.

But China’s dollar peg is likely to prove a drag on a massive dollar devaluation. At the same time, countries like the U.K. are likely to respond to any sudden appreciation of their own currencies with their own programs of quantitative easing. As might the European Central Bank. Or there could be more direct currency intervention–the sort the Japanese and the Swiss have tended to resort to.

The upshot is likely to be not just a U.S.-driven inflationary push, but a global one, where all countries aim to devalue their way to economic health at the same time.

The result will benefit borrowers at the expense of savers worldwide. But, then again, maybe given the state of global imbalances–too much debt in the U.S. and other Anglo-Saxon economies; too many assets held by Chinese, Japanese and oil-producing countries–maybe a massive bout of global inflation is the only way forward.

Week in Review with Jerry Robinson

By Jerry Robinson | FTMDaily.com

What a dismal week for economic and geopolitical news!

GEOPOLITICAL TENSIONS

Of course, the big news last week came out of the Middle East. The U.S. announced new peace talks set to take place next month between Israel and the Palestinians. And after years of delays, Iran finally began loading tons of uranium fuel into their first nuclear reactor (Russian-built) on Saturday. Iran claims that they have a right to produce nuclear energy, and in an unusual gesture offered to allow oversight of their nuclear activities. Iran maintains that its intentions are peaceful.  Israel immediately denounced Iran’s new nuclear power plant calling it ‘totally unacceptable.’ In response to the news of an atomic Iran, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yossi Levy said:

“It is totally unacceptable that a country that so blatantly violates resolutions of the (United Nations) Security Council, decisions of the International Atomic Energy Agency and its commitments under the NPT (non-proliferation treaty) should enjoy the fruits of using nuclear energy.”

The U.S. appeared to disregard the political urgency of the news. Darby Holladay of the U.S. State Department told news agencies:

“We recognize that the Bushehr reactor is designed to provide civilian nuclear power and do not view it as a proliferation risk.”

However, the U.S. did admit that while Iran posed no immediate threat, they could potentially have a bomb through the conversion of fuel into weapons-grade uranium within 12 months. According to sources within Washington, U.S. and Israeli intelligence would detect such conversion “within weeks” and would have ample time to engage Iran in military strikes.

In classic form, Iran’s leader warned that an attack on the reactor would be met with a global and “painful” response.

I would expect that we will witness rising tensions followed by a full-scale war between the West and Iran within the next 18-36 months.

ECONOMIC MALAISE

On the economic front, the weekly jobless claims reached 500,000, a 9 month high. Consumer bankruptcies hit a 5 year high this week.

And it appears that the U.S. government’s “chicken in every pot” policy regarding home ownership may be coming to an end as Washington attempts to “untangle the wires” of America’s housing and mortgage crisis.

Besides, “renting” instead of “owning” is fast becoming a new normal in today’s tumultuous economy. At least so says Fortune magazine in it’s new article entitled: Five ‘new normals’ that really will stick

Flight to Safety

Flight to Safety… In other news, small investors appear to be losing their appetite for risk by fleeing the stock market for the perceived “safety” of the bond market. According to the Investment Company Institute, small investors withdrew a staggering $33.12 billion from domestic stock market mutual funds in the first seven months of this year. Click the chart to the right for more.

No Liquidity… And in a sign that American’s lack liquidity, Fidelity Investments reported this week that hardship withdrawals from 401(k) retirement saving plans rose to the highest level in 10 years during the second quarter.

When this news is coupled with the fact that most working Americans have very little liquid savings, it offers further proof that the Mutual Fund industry has successfully trained the American public to max out their 401(k) before building adequate liquid savings reserves.

The Mutual Fund industry sponsors many popular financial commentators today who fervently preach the “max out your 401(k)” gospel. Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey are just two examples of the droves of financial personalities who have been paid handsomely to pay little attention to the importance of adequate and diversified liquidity prior to “maxing out a 401(k).”

However, as of late, “abundant liquidity” has become a hallmark of many financial gurus like Orman and Ramsey. Unfortunately, this sudden emphasis upon liquidity comes late for the millions of Americans facing foreclosures and bankruptcies.

Consider for a moment that most people’s two largest assets are their primary residences and their 401(k)’s. Both of these assets are explicitly government-controlled. Diversification is the only weapon against a cash-strapped government hungry for revenue. When the government comes looking for cash where do you think it is going to look? With nearly $20 trillion in personal retirement assets, why not slap a higher distribution tax on your 401(k) and traditional IRA? Could they? Of course. What could you do about it? Nothing. Except maybe curse the Suze Ormans and Dave Ramseys of the world who told you to stuff money into a 100% government-controlled asset. Why not just put your money into a box and hand the government the key and ask them to give it back to you at retirement? That, by the way, is the definition of a 401(k)… minus Mutual Fund fees.

Across the Pond… Since making the news a couple of months ago, the country of Greece has imposed strict austerity measures. The result? Greece is in the grip of a depression. Purchasing power is dropping, consumption is taking a nosedive and the number of bankruptcies are on the rise. In addition, stores are closing, tax revenues are falling and unemployment has hit an unbelievable 70 percent in some places. Has Greece entered the death spiral? You can read more here.

Big Brother Alert… There’s more troubling news on the growing threat of government intrusion.

Biometrics R&D firm Global Rainmakers Inc. (GRI) announced today that it is rolling out its iris scanning technology to create what it calls “the most secure city in the world.” In a partnership with Leon — one of the largest cities in Mexico, with a population of more than a million — GRI will fill the city with eye-scanners. That will help law enforcement revolutionize the way we live — not to mention marketers.

The intrusion of constant government monitoring is slowly becoming a reality. We are already tracked like animals. But they won’t stop until they have total and complete control.

Is the real price of gold over $2,000 right now? My weekend radio interview with GATA Chairman, Bill Murphy, offered some unusual information. According to Murphy, the artificial suppression of the price of gold has caused the precious metal to be severely undervalued. Murphy states in the interview that if the price manipulation were to end, gold would be trading at around $2300/oz! If you are interested in the precious metals sector, do yourself a favor and take time to listen to this weekend’s radio program. You can listen to the entire show here. Or, if you prefer to listen to the show on iTunes, click here.

That’s all for this update. Look for a few blog updates this week and an excellent radio program next weekend. My guest will be geopolitical and economic analyst, Puru Saxena. Mr. Saxena will be joining me from Hong Kong.

Have a prosperous week!

About Jerry Robinson

Jerry Robinson is an economist, published author, columnist, international conference speaker, and the editor of the financial website, FTMDaily.com. In addition, Robinson hosts a weekly radio program entitled Follow the Money Weekly, an hour long radio show dedicated to deciphering the week’s economic news.

Six Important Questions for Gerald Celente – LISTEN NOW!

Follow the Money Weekly radio host Jerry Robinson asks Gerald Celente six vital questions about the times and trends of the U.S. economy. In this shocking and timely interview, you will hear Celente’s opinion of where the U.S. economy is headed, as well as what the future holds for citizen preparedness during times of war.

Part 1

Part 2

Listen to the entire radio show, and hear more interviews like this one at our website: http://www.ftmdaily.com/ftmweekly.php

Nancy Pelosi Steps Right Over the Third Rail

London Stansted Airport people mover central rail.
Image via Wikipedia

By Jerry Robinson | FTMDaily.com

While checking the news on Sunday, I ran across this headline on the Drudge Report…

“Pelosi, 70, Opposed to Raising Retirement Age.”

You can read the story in its entirety here >> http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20011573-503544.html

It seems that the coming debate over Social Security, that old “third rail” of American politics, is going to be just as difficult as most of us had expected.

Think about it. Millions of hard-working Americans have paid lots of money into the Social Security system. Why shouldn’t ALL of them obviously expect to receive their share of SSI benefits in retirement.

So what are the solutions?

1) Cut benefits? Who is willing to be first in this line?

2) Raise FICA taxes? Which modern politician is foolish enough to propose this plan?

3) Print money? Ahhh… why not.

America’s modern obsession with financial pain avoidance is why our economy is in the tank. Our financially reckless politicians actually believe that there is another exit door from our economic pain. Sacrifice is required but ignored. But sacrifice will only come after exhausting all other options, including the option of destroying the final vestiges of our currency through hyperinflation.

What are you doing to prepare yourself against the inevitable?

About Jerry Robinson

Jerry Robinson is an economist, published author, columnist, international conference speaker, and the editor of the financial website, FTMDaily.com. In addition, Robinson hosts a weekly radio program entitled Follow the Money Weekly, an hour long radio show dedicated to deciphering the week’s economic news.

Congress to raise retirement age?

The Washington Times Online Edition

Both parties mull raising retirement age

House leaders get frank about Social Security cost

** FILE ** House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat  (AP Photo)
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat (AP Photo)

By Patrice Hill

8:58 p.m., Tuesday, July 13, 2010

In a rare departure from this year’s intense political posturing over the soaring budget deficit, House leaders of both parties recently signaled that they are prepared to tackle a leading long-term liability — Social Security — by raising the retirement age.

Politicians often talk in generalities about cutting the deficit, but discussing specifics about how Congress may curb the growth of the biggest and most popular programs such as Social Security and defense is controversial and usually taboo in an election year.

But lessons learned from the debt crisis in Europe and worries that the U.S. could soon confront its own debt crisis, with annual deficits projected at about $1 trillion for years to come, may have prompted the unusually frank comments by House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, and House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.

Speaking in unrelated forums, both leaders stressed that with people living longer and enjoying better health in their senior years, the nation simply can’t afford any longer to be paying out benefits for as long as 30 years after retirement.

“We need to look at the American people and explain to them that we’re broke,” Mr. Boehner said in an interview last week with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Besides raising the retirement age for full Social Security benefits to 70 for people now 50 or younger, Mr. Boehner suggested curbing benefit growth by tying cost-of-living increases to the consumer price index rather than growth in wages, and providing benefits only to those who need them.

“If you have substantial non-Social Security income while you’re retired, why are we paying you at a time when we’re broke?” he said. “We just need to be honest with people.”

Read more…

The 50 most unbelievable facts about the U.S. economy

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Tyler Durden on 07/09/2010 17:02 -0500 | Zerohedge.com

As we close on another week replete with ugly economic data and the usual bizarro counterintuitive market, here is a summary of the 50 most underreported facts about the state of the US economy, courtesy of the Coto report. After reading these it almost makes sense that the market has become completely desensitized to the sad reality now pervasive in this country. Readers are encouraged to add their own observations to this list. Surely if the list is doubled, the market will go up to 72,000 instead of just 36,000.

#50) In 2010 the U.S. government is projected to issue almost as much new debt as the rest of the governments of the world combined.

#49) It is being projected that the U.S. government will have a budget deficit of approximately 1.6 trillion dollars in 2010.

#48) If you went out and spent one dollar every single second, it would take you more than 31,000 years to spend a trillion dollars.

#47) In fact, if you spent one million dollars every single day since the birth of Christ, you still would not have spent one trillion dollars by now.

#46) Total U.S. government debt is now up to 90 percent of gross domestic product.

#45) Total credit market debt in the United States, including government, corporate and personal debt, has reached 360 percent of GDP.

#44) U.S. corporate income tax receipts were down 55% (to $138 billion) for the year ending September 30th, 2009.

#43) There are now 8 counties in the state of California that have unemployment rates of over 20 percent.

#42) In the area around Sacramento, California there is one closed business for every six that are still open.

#41) In February, there were 5.5 unemployed Americans for every job opening.

#40) According to a Pew Research Center study, approximately 37% of all Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 have either been unemployed or underemployed at some point during the recession.

#39) More than 40% of those employed in the United States are now working in low-wage service jobs.

#38) According to one new survey, 24% of American workers say that they have postponed their planned retirement age in the past year.

#37) Over 1.4 million Americans filed for personal bankruptcy in 2009, which represented a 32 percent increase over 2008.  Not only that, more Americans filed for bankruptcy in March 2010 than during any month since U.S. bankruptcy law was tightened in October 2005.

#36) Mortgage purchase applications in the United States are down nearly 40 percent from a month ago to their lowest level since April of 1997.

#35) RealtyTrac has announced that foreclosure filings in the U.S. established an all time record for the second consecutive year in 2009.

#34) According to RealtyTrac, foreclosure filings were reported on 367,056 properties in March 2010, an increase of nearly 19 percent from February, an increase of nearly 8 percent from March 2009 and the highest monthly total since RealtyTrac began issuing its report in January 2005.

#33) In Pinellas and Pasco counties, which include St. Petersburg, Florida and the suburbs to the north, there are 34,000 open foreclosure cases.  Ten years ago, there were only about 4,000.

#32) In California’s Central Valley, 1 out of every 16 homes is in some phase of foreclosure.

#31) The Mortgage Bankers Association recently announced that more than 10 percent of all U.S. homeowners with a mortgage had missed at least one payment during the January to March time period.  That was a record high and up from 9.1 percent a year ago.

#30) U.S. banks repossessed nearly 258,000 homes nationwide in the first quarter of 2010, a 35 percent jump from the first quarter of 2009.

#29) For the first time in U.S. history, banks own a greater share of residential housing net worth in the United States than all individual Americans put together.

#28) More than 24% of all homes with mortgages in the United States were underwater as of the end of 2009.

#27) U.S. commercial property values are down approximately 40 percent since 2007 and currently 18 percent of all office space in the United States is sitting vacant.

#26) Defaults on apartment building mortgages held by U.S. banks climbed to a record 4.6 percent in the first quarter of 2010.  That was almost twice the level of a year earlier.

#25) In 2009, U.S. banks posted their sharpest decline in private lending since 1942.

#24) New York state has delayed paying bills totalling $2.5 billion as a short-term way of staying solvent but officials are warning that its cash crunch could soon get even worse.

#23) To make up for a projected 2010 budget shortfall of $280 million, Detroit issued $250 million of 20-year municipal notes in March. The bond issuance followed on the heels of a warning from Detroit officials that if its financial state didn’t improve, it could be forced to declare bankruptcy.

#22) The National League of Cities says that municipal governments will probably come up between $56 billion and $83 billion short between now and 2012.

#21) Half a dozen cash-poor U.S. states have announced that they are delaying their tax refund checks.

#20) Two university professors recently calculated that the combined unfunded pension liability for all 50 U.S. states is 3.2 trillion dollars.

#19) According to EconomicPolicyJournal.com, 32 U.S. states have already run out of funds to make unemployment benefit payments and so the federal government has been supplying these states with funds so that they can make their  payments to the unemployed.

#18) This most recession has erased 8 million private sector jobs in the United States.

#17) Paychecks from private business shrank to their smallest share of personal income in U.S. history during the first quarter of 2010.

#16) U.S. government-provided benefits (including Social Security, unemployment insurance, food stamps and other programs) rose to a record high during the first three months of 2010.

#15) 39.68 million Americans are now on food stamps, which represents a new all-time record.  But things look like they are going to get even worse.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture is forecasting that enrollment in the food stamp program will exceed 43 million Americans in 2011.

#14) Phoenix, Arizona features an astounding annual car theft rate of 57,000 vehicles and has become the new “Car Theft Capital of the World”.

#13) U.S. law enforcement authorities claim that there are now over 1 million members of criminal gangs inside the country. These 1 million gang members are responsible for up to 80% of the crimes committed in the United States each year.

#12) The U.S. health care system was already facing a shortage of approximately 150,000 doctors in the next decade or so, but thanks to the health care “reform” bill passed by Congress, that number could swell by several hundred thousand more.

#11) According to an analysis by the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation the health care “reform” bill will generate $409.2 billion in additional taxes on the American people by 2019.

#10) The Dow Jones Industrial Average just experienced the worst May it has seen since 1940.

#9) In 1950, the ratio of the average executive’s paycheck to the average worker’s paycheck was about 30 to 1.  Since the year 2000, that ratio has exploded to between 300 to 500 to one.

#8) Approximately 40% of all retail spending currently comes from the 20% of American households that have the highest incomes.

#7) According to economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, two-thirds of income increases in the U.S. between 2002 and 2007 went to the wealthiest 1% of all Americans.

#6) The bottom 40 percent of income earners in the United States now collectively own less than 1 percent of the nation’s wealth.

#5) If you only make the minimum payment each and every time, a $6,000 credit card bill can end up costing you over $30,000 (depending on the interest rate).

#4) According to a new report based on U.S. Census Bureau data, only 26 percent of American teens between the ages of 16 and 19 had jobs in late 2009 which represents a record low since statistics began to be kept back in 1948.

#3) According to a National Foundation for Credit Counseling survey, only 58% of those in “Generation Y” pay their monthly bills on time.

#2) During the first quarter of 2010, the total number of loans that are at least three months past due in the United States increased for the 16th consecutive quarter.

#1) According to the Tax Foundation’s Microsimulation Model, to erase the 2010 U.S. budget deficit, the U.S. Congress would have to multiply each tax rate by 2.4.  Thus, the 10 percent rate would be 24 percent, the 15 percent rate would be 36 percent, and the 35 percent rate would have to be 85 percent.

Obama’s debt commission warns of fiscal ‘cancer’

By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 12, 2010; A02

BOSTON — The co-chairmen of President Obama‘s debt and deficit commission offered an ominous assessment of the nation’s fiscal future here Sunday, calling current budgetary trends a cancer “that will destroy the country from within” unless checked by tough action in Washington.

The two leaders — former Republican senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming and Erskine Bowles, White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton — sought to build support for the work of the commission, whose recommendations due later this year are likely to spark a fierce debate in Congress.

“There are many who hope we fail,” Simpson said at the closing session of the National Governors Association annual meeting. He called the 18-member commission “good people with deep, deep differences” who know the odds of success “are rather harrowing.”

(Graphic: President Obama’s proposed 2011budget explained)

Bowles said that unlike the current economic crisis, which was largely unforeseen before it hit in fall 2008, the coming fiscal calamity is staring the country in the face. “This one is as clear as a bell,” he said. “This debt is like a cancer.”

The commission leaders said that, at present, federal revenue is fully consumed by three programs: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. “The rest of the federal government, including fighting two wars, homeland security, education, art, culture, you name it, veterans — the whole rest of the discretionary budget is being financed by China and other countries,” Simpson said.

“We can’t grow our way out of this,” Bowles said. “We could have decades of double-digit growth and not grow our way out of this enormous debt problem. We can’t tax our way out. . . . The reality is we’ve got to do exactly what you all do every day as governors. We’ve got to cut spending or increase revenues or do some combination of that.

Bowles pointed to steps taken recently by the new coalition government in Britain, which also faces an acute budgetary problem, as a guide to what the commission might use in its recommendations. That would mean about three-quarters of the deficit reduction would be accomplished through spending cuts, and the remainder with additional revenue.

Most Republicans in Congress are opposed to any tax increases, which has made the work of the commission far more difficult. Bowles and Simpson appealed for support to the governors, who have been forced by their states’ constitutions to balance their budgets with deep spending cuts and, in many cases, tax increases.

Bowles and Simpson said the commission would have had a stronger hand politically had it been created by Congress, rather than through an executive order. Simpson was pointed in his criticism of seven Republicans who once co-sponsored such a measure but who helped block it in the Senate.

“As far as I can discern, it was to stick it to the president,” Simpson said. “That’s where we are in Washington.” He later added that all seven “have now come to us to say, ‘We’re ready to help.’ ”

The presentation by Simpson and Bowles, which included repeated statements of determination to produce a bipartisan set of recommendations, drew praise from the governors.

“I don’t know that I’ve every heard a gloomier picture painted that created more hope for me,” said Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe (D).

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire (D) said that many governors fear that the commission’s recommendations will result in more demands on the states.

Bowles, who noted that the 1997 balanced-budget agreement between the Clinton White House and the Republican-controlled Congress included many provisions that put more burdens on the states, said that wasn’t likely.

“I don’t think you’re going to see a lot of devolution coming from us because the states are all broke,” he said.

Simpson also warned that the November elections could add another wild card to the work of the commission. “I have no idea what’s going to happen on Election Day but it’s going to be disruptive . . .,” he said. “It’s going to be a big wake-up call around the whole United States. I have no idea where it’s going, but thank heaven we have a month then to work through the wreckage.”