With the G-20 (and G-7) concluding with what appears to be a slap on the wrist and a wink-and-a-nod to Japan, it seems the game of competitive devaluation will continue. Much pixel and ink has been spilled the 'potential' winners and losers in such an evolving game, but as Bloomberg notes, there has been one winner in the last 10 years each time the world has fretted over "currency wars". As fear (and actuality) of currency wars flares, the USD has borne the brunt of the buying. From 2004's JPYtervention to Mantega's 2010 comments and each time in between, when competitive devaluation is on the world's lips, then the USD is implicitly bid as the currency du jour is offered to any and every willing carry trade riderthere is. The trouble is - for the lowly US investor - each time the USD is bid, so the US equity market has hit an FX-translated earnings hump and fallen back. So while talking heads will exaggerate the nominal performance of Japanese and British equity markets as their currencies free-fall, perhaps the US investor should be careful what they wish for.
Paul Krugman is all for currency wars, but not trade wars: "...First of all, what people think they know about past currency wars isn’t actually true... And in reality the stuff that’s now being called “currency wars” is almost surely a net plus for the world economy..." There is a serious intellectual error here, typical of much of the recent discussion of this issue. A currency war is by definition a low-level form of a trade war because currencies are internationally traded commodities. The intent (and there is much circumstantial evidence to suggest that Japan at least is acting with mercantilist intent, but that is another story for another day) is not relevant — currency depreciation is currency depreciation and still has the same effects on creditors and trade partners, whatever the claimed intent. The risks of disorder and disruption are still very real today.
Throughout history, citizen disarmament generally leads to one of two inevitable outcomes: Government tyranny and genocide, or, revolution and civil war. Anti-gun statists would, of course, argue that countries like the UK and Australia have not suffered such a result. My response would be – just give them time. You may believe that gun control efforts are part and parcel of a totalitarian agenda (as they usually are), or, you may believe that gun registration and confiscation are a natural extension of the government’s concern for our “safety and well-being”. Either way, the temptation of power that comes after a populace is made defenseless is almost always too great for any political entity to dismiss. One way or another, for one reason or another, they WILL take advantage of the fact that the people have no leverage to determine their own cultural future beyond a twisted system of law and governance which is, in the end, easily corrupted. The unawake and the unaware among us will also argue that revolution or extreme dissent against the establishment is not practical or necessary, because the government “is made of regular people like us, who can be elected or removed at any time”. This is the way a Republic is supposed to function, yes. However, the system we have today has strayed far from the methods of a Free Republic and towards the machinations of a single party system. Our government does NOT represent the common American anymore. It has become a centralized and Sovietized monstrosity. A seething hydra with two poisonous heads; one Democrat in name, one Republican in name. Both heads feed the same bottomless stomach; the predatory and cannibalistic pit of socialized oligarchy.
America and China are on a collision course and the battleground is Asia. The new Cold War will impact U.S.-China trade as well as intra-Asian trade.
Ron Paul spoke with Bloomberg television and said that we are in a currency war and we have been for decades. He noted that governments have always competed against each other’s currencies even under Bretton Woods. It has always been a form or protectionism and will make people want to export more. Dr. Paul said don’t blame countries like China and Japan just look at the debt the U.S. is buying. There will always be currency wars. The Bank of Japan claims it has to defend itself against deflation and decades of slow growth. Ron Paul noted that the Bank of Japan’s yen devaluations will eventually lead to further price inflations that are to come. Investors and citizens will eventually reject the yen and switch to other currencies like dollars or Swiss francs. Then eventually people will move to hard assets altogether as they are losing confidence in paper assets. Dr. Paul was asked, “Do you think protectionism will lead to a crash in the international monetary system? He replied, “Nothing good can come of it. Even short run trade benefits leads to a weaker economy and higher prices. It doesn't solve the problem they won't face the truth. That is that all governments spend too much money, there is too much debt and they get away with it by taxing people”.
China has been a very active purchaser of gold for its reserves in the last few years, as we extensively covered here and here, but another nation has taken over the 'biggest buyer' role (for the same reasons as China). Central banks around the world have printed money to escape the global financial crisis, and as Bloomberg reports, IMF data shows Russia added 570 metric tons in the past decade. Putin's fears that "the U.S. is endangering the global economy by abusing its dollar monopoly," are clearly being taken seriously as the world's largest oil producer turns black gold into hard assets. A lawmaker in Putin's party noted, "the more gold a country has, the more sovereignty it will have if there’s a cataclysm with the dollar, the euro, the pound or any other reserve currency." It appears Russia-China is now the 'hard-money' axis and perhaps, to some extent, it is the relative price of oil that defines their demand for the barbarous relic.
U.S. exports and imports last year totaled $3.82 trillion, the U.S. Commerce Department said last week. China’s customs administration reported last month that the country’s total trade in 2012 amounted to $3.87 trillion. China had a $231.1 billion annual trade surplus while the U.S. had a trade deficit of $727.9 billion. For those who are still not aware of why this is such a big deal, it is essentially a turning point moment in global trade. There is no doubt that China will now be inducted into the SDR, and that their importance as a trade and consumption center will quickly lead to a move away from the dollar. To put it simply, the dollar is going to lose its world reserve status VERY soon. Many will cheer this change as necessary progress towards a more “globally conscious” economic system. However, it’s not that simple. Total centralization is first and foremost the dream of idiots, and in any mutation (or amputation) there is always considerable pain involved. The proponents of this “New World Order” (their words, not mine) seem to have placed the U.S. squarely in their crosshairs as the primary recipient of this fiscal pain.
What does it mean that China is making a lot of noise about the Federal Reserve’s loose monetary policy?
Following today's dismal GDP print, the massive ongoing borrowing being undertaken by our government, and the Bernankian policies which appear inescapable (and entirely ineffective for anything but the market), we thought Ken Rogoff's recent op-ed from the FT was extremely appropriate. Many foreign observers look at the US budget shenanigans with confusion and dismay, wondering how a country that seems to have it all can manage its fiscal affairs so chaotically. The root problem is not just a hugely elevated level of public debt, or a patently unsustainable trajectory for old age entitlements. It is an electorate deeply divided over the direction of government, with differences compounded by changing demographics and sustained sluggish growth. It is hard to escape the notion that today’s budget battles are but a skirmish in a much longer-term war that won’t be settled soon. The idea that one should just ignore all these problems and apply crude Keynesian stimulus is a dangerous one. It matters a great deal how the government taxes and spends, not just how much. The US debt level is a constraint.
Since Alan Greenspan became the Fed chairman in 1987, there has been a policy consensus on the primary role and effectiveness of monetary policy in cushioning an economic downturn and kicking it back to growth. Fiscal policy, due to the political difficulties in making meaningful changes, was relegated to a minor role in economic management. Staving off crisis and reviving growth still dominate today's conversation. The prima facie evidence is that the experiment has failed. The dominant voice in policy discussions is advocating more of the same. When a medicine isn't working, it could be the wrong one or the dosage isn't sufficient. The world is trying the latter. But, if the medicine is really wrong, more and more of the same will kill the patient one day. The global economy was a debt bubble, functioning on China over-borrowing and investing and the West over-borrowing and consuming. The dynamic came to an end when the debt crises exposed debt levels in the West as too high. The last source of debt growth, the U.S. government, is coming to an end, too, as politics forces it to reduce the deficit. Trying to bring back yesterday through monetary growth will eventually bring inflation, not growth.
Well, my fellow Slope-a-Dopes, your selfless Idiotic Savant servant, whom is securely chained to his desk, has spent a significant part of the long weekend, perusing nearly every finance blog on the world wide web for you. Therefore, I can reliably report to the SOH, that the overwhelming consensus out there in the financial blogosphere, which has now reached a nearly universal feverish pitch, is boldly & proudly heralding that a most encouraging new economic dawn is finally upon us. It seems, a pristine permanent plateau of prosperity has been patently perfected.
Biggest loser? China.
China now buys more gold than the Western world. Does that mean, as some commentators are suggesting, that future price growth for the gold price depends on China? That if the Chinese economy weakens and has a hard landing or a recession that gold will fall steeply? Of course, this is only one factor. With the global monetary system in a state of flux - with many nations creating bilateral and multilateral trade agreements to trade in non-dollar currencies, including gold - emerging market central banks see gold — the oldest existing form of money — as an insurance policy against unpredictable changes, and as a way to win global monetary influence. As Zhang Jianhua of the People’s Bank of China said: "No asset is safe now. The only choice to hedge risks is to hold hard currency - gold."
US politicians have opted to begin mimicking their EU counterparts when it comes to dealing with our debt issues. What could go wrong?
Following Part 1 (History), Part 2 (Interventionism), and Part 3 (money vs. credit), Part 4 considers another kind of credit: the Real Bill, designed to provide a bridge between service providers and supply chains. Although initially appearing inflationary, it is the restriction of counterfeit credit that keeps Real Bills in tact as they will inevitably spontaneously circulate as a clearing mechanism for transactions (thus avoiding the credit inflation). In practice, the Real Bill is nothing more than the invoice of the wholesaler on the retailer. Opponents of Real Bills have a dilemma. They can either oppose them by means of enacting a coercive law, or they can allow them because they will spring into existence and circulate in a free market under the gold standard. We can hope that the principle of freedom and free markets leads everyone to the latter.