The dollar’s hegemony over the global financial system can’t last forever. Like all things, it will eventually come to an end.
The only question left, as MacroVoices' Erik Townsend puts it, is whether we’re in the second inning and there’s going to be another hundred years of the dollar serving as the world’s global reserve currency? Or whether we’re in the bottom of the ninth and it’s all about to fall apart? Or maybe somewhere in between.
In an interview with Jeffrey Snider, CIO at Alhambra Partners, Luke Gromen, founder of Forest for the Trees, and Mark Yusko, founder and fund manager for Morgan Creek, Townsend explores the issue in greater detail. For many, the decline of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency is difficult to imagine. But the first blow to the petrodollar system has already been delivered: By refusing to accept oil payments in dollars, Venezuela has demonstrated to the world that an alternative system to the petrodollar is indeed possible. Furthermore, Latin America’s socialist paradise has begun publishing an oil-price index denominated in yuan. We've also highlighted reports that Russia, Venezuela and Iran - three countries that have trouble accumulating dollars because of Treasury Department sanctions - are considering launching a cryptocurrency backed by oil.
Townsend begins his interview with Gromen, who points out that, counterintuitively, the dollar’s rapid appreciation beginning in Q3 2014 has coincided with a drop in the share of global trade settled in dollars. Gromen predicts that this trend will continue to benefit the dollar – until it doesn’t.
I would probably say in the later innings. Certainly the last third of the game. Maybe the eighth inning.
The reason I say that is that, given the Eurodollar system as it’s structured, early on, if any nations or major parties wanted to move away from using the dollar for any number of reasons, ironically, what that moving away from the dollar would do would drive significant dollar strength. So, ironically, accelerating moves to dump the dollar in global trade usage, which in the long run is the most bearish development for the dollar, in the near term is the most bullish development for the dollar.
And so when we look back, we think, beginning in 3Q14 was when you started to see a marked acceleration in the dollar’s share loss in global trade. And, in particular, in energy trade centered between China and Russia. And so we think things began to accelerate in 3Q14 and, like we’ve said, the process of moving away from the dollar, or the dollar losing share in trade, is a big positive for the dollar – until it’s not.
However, Gorman believes an important shift happened in Q3 2016 when the dollar’s share loss in global trade started to accelerate. At that point, the dollar’s climb from 2014 and 2015 had already been unwound to a degree. Furthermore, Gorman posits that the dollar will weaken because it’s in the national security interest of the US for the dollar to weaken.
And then the “until it’s not” part of this movie began over a year ago now, in 3Q16. The reason we say that is because from 3Q14 until 3Q16 you saw a rising dollar, rising Libor, and a pretty traditional dollar strengthening cycle up to that point.
Where it started to become non-traditional relative to what pretty much any market participant trading in markets today – or even alive today – was when in 3Q16 rising dollar, rising Libor, drove a year-over- year decline in US tax receipts and therefore an increase in the US deficit as a percent of GDP. And it did this before you had a major emerging crisis.
This was the first time the US’s tax receipts declined before a major emerging market crisis, in a dollar-tightening cycle, in the post-Bretton Woods period.
And so, then, when you combine that with what has become effectively a system that requires as infinitum asset price appreciation in order to drive tax receipts for the US government, it sets up – beginning in 3Q16, where we started to get into late innings of this game. Where, not only are foreign creditors looking to move away from the dollar in trade usage for a number of reasons, but it also started to become a matter of national security for the
US government for the dollar to weaken.
Moving on, Townsend turns next to Jeff Snider, CIO at Alhambra investments. Snider explains how the Eurodollar system harms emerging-market economies and ultimately weakens the global financial system with each cycle of tightening.
The last tightening cycle, which lasted from 2014 through 2016, was particularly destabilizing, Snider explained, particularly for emerging markets like Brazil, Russia, and China. Many EM countries and corporations based in those countries issue dollar-denominated debt, which becomes more expensive to pay down when the greenback climbs.
But, for now at least, Snider expects the system to endure – if for no other reason than there’s nothing to take its place.
My position is that the dollar system, the supply of dollars in the global network of trade, continues to be a problem. But it isn’t a problem in a straight line. It’s not like it’s a straight-line decay from where you can draw a singular line from 2007 to 2013. Instead, it’s more of an intermittent type of thing where we have these alternating periods where things tighten up. Then they loosen up relatively.
But, as we go through each of these periods, the system is worse off for having gone through each one. And so the last tightening episode, starting in 2014 and lasting through 2016, was severe. Especially in emerging markets like Brazil, Russia, and China, the BRICs, because that’s where that part of the dysfunction was focused. More in FX and more into the Asian part of the system, as it has evolved since 2007 in that direction.
So, from my perspective, nothing has really changed except the system continues to get weaker. And I think right now where we are is we’re waiting for the next tightening event to start taking place. That there’s plenty of evidence that the system continues to decay, particularly with China and some of the other emerging markets.
So it doesn’t add up to a bullish position, necessarily. And I think that’s one of the things I want to define, is what exactly is a rising dollar? And it’s not bullish. And I’m certainly not of the position that most dollar bulls take, which is that the dollar goes up because the US is going to strengthen either economically, financially, or otherwise. I think that’s just not the case. So if we couch these in terms of the Eurodollar system and its continued decay, it’s not a bullish thing. But I think the dollar continues to go up, at least for the next little while. Because, frankly, there is nothing there to take its place.
So we’re kind of stuck with it.
Moving on, while Yusko didn’t feel comfortable attaching an expected expiration date for global dollar hegemony, he did draw some interesting parallels between the dollar and the British pound, the global reserve currency that immediately preceded the dollar.
You know, the interesting thing about world reserve currency is there have been lots of them over time. And I always joked that Americans are like Notre Dame football fans – they remember a past that never was. Notre Dame football fans think that we win all the time, which, clearly, we don’t. I was down in Miami. That was horrible.
And, you know, Americans think that we’ve always been the world reserve currency, for some reason. And we clearly haven’t. It’s only been since 1944. What’s interesting about that is the transition can last a long time. The sun never set on the British Empire for 70 years. They had the world reserve currency. They had the strongest navy.
And then in 1913 they invaded Mesopotamia, incurred a bunch of debt, the pound sterling collapsed, the dollar ascended. We, 31 years later, became the world reserve currency. And then in 2013, we (coincidentally) invaded Mesopotamia, incurred a bunch of debt, the dollar collapsed, and the Renminbi ascended.
Well, that hasn’t all happened yet. But I think it’s on its way to happening. And when I look around the world, I think it’s supremely clear that China has a plan. And for the last 50 years, their stated goal was a harmonious rise.
Doesn’t that sound poetic? It’s beautiful. It’s non-confrontational.
Ultimately, Yusko believes the Chinese yuan will replace the dollar as the world’s reserve currency sometime before 2050, the time by which Yusko expects China will become the dominant global power.
This contrasts with the consensus view, that, after the dollar, there won’t be one dominant currency, but several in separate spheres of influence.
The conversation is part one of a five-part series from MacroVoices exploring the dollar’s future as the world’s dominant currency.
Readers can listen to the whole conversation below: