Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Beginning of End for USD The Reserve Currency

I still can't believe it happened just like that. It's so unceremonial, it's a huge anticlimax.

I'm talking about the Fed announcement of the plan to purchase up to $1.5T debt. That's the last bullet in their clip. Lowering the rates further would be like firing from an empty gun, mathematically sound but a bit tricky technically. So the dollar tanked (makes sense), gold shot up (makes sense), treasuries shot up (what?), and stock market shot up (WHAT? Oh, ok, shot-term).

I suspect that, looking back 10 years from now, we'll realize this is the beginning of the end of USD's reserve currency status. Yes, people have been talking about the demise of the dollar for years. But so far everything else -- budget deficit, total debt, trade deficit -- has been gradual, and reversible at least in theory. This is the ominous turn of events that pushes it beyond the point of no return. Even if Fed miraculously manages to shrink its balance sheet back down in the future, which would require just too much political will and independence short of a Second Coming of Volcker++, the cherry is already popped. The confidence in US monetary restraint is gone. So much of what defines US and the world order hinges on the dollar's reserve currency status, I don't even want to speculate what'd happen when it changes.

But the announcement shouldn't be a surprise, though. The downside I mentioned above is long-term. Humans, indeed most animals, are evolutionarily conditioned to consistently overweigh short-term risk and underweigh long-term risk. Yes, the short-term risk is grave. But the short-term risk the government sees is not the real risk, but rather the pain it'd take to fix the real problem. So they did exactly the things they lectured, with condescension and moral superiority, Japan and IMF rescuees on not doing.

Ever seen a kid kicking and screaming, refusing to go to the doctor and go under the needle? That's what the government has been doing throughout the crisis.

But even for the short-term, I doubt the benefit will last. EUR and GBP are up, along with most other currencies. But hey, naughty girls need inflation, too. Chances are that Fed has more than just popped their own monetary cherry, they've started a new lifestyle of monetary promiscuity with abandon. Everybody goes monetizing their own debt, lending from the right hand to the left hand and, whoala, currency stops going up and wonderful, wonderful inflation everywhere.

But is this the real solution, I mean, even in the sense of superficial, short-term fix of symptoms? It is most certainly not. It's inflation for inflation's sake, which achieves nothing except stealing from the future generations. It's a race to the cliff.

I still can't believe it happened just like that.

It's time to buy gold and TIPS, maybe commodities, too.

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