Wall Street Warns Tim Geithner That The Dollar Is Starting To Lose Its Reserve Status

The Treasury's Borrowing Advisory Committee, chaired by such luminaries as JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs, which according to some (and by some we mean anyone who cares about such things) is the brains behind the decision-making process of US debt issuance has released its quarterly minutes, in which it has issued one of the most stark warnings about the fate of the US Dollar to date. While it is now a daily occurrence for China and Russia to bash the dollar, for the most part still powerless to provide an alternative (but rapidly gaining), the same warning coming from Jamie and Lloyd has to be taken far, far more seriously. Which is precisely what happened today. As Bloomberg reports, "The Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee... said the outperformance of haven currencies and those from emerging nations has aided in the debasement of the dollar’s reserve status, according to comments included in discussion charts presented ahead of the quarterly refunding. The Treasury published the documents today. “The idea of a reserve currency is that it is built on strength, not typically that it is ‘best among poor choices’,” page 35 of the presentation made by one committee member said. “The fact that there are not currently viable alternatives to the U.S. dollar is a hollow victory and perhaps portends a deteriorating fate.”"

But, wait a second... Isn't Ben Bernanke debasing the dollar precisely for the benefit of the members of the TBAC? And considering that he has done such a tremendous job, is it a little hypocritical to be taking the USD devaluation in one hand, and complaining about it with another? Perhaps someone less jaded than us can answer. As for another important question looming over the US, namely the so called imminent US downgrade, the TBAC has spoken: "None of the members thought that a downgrade was imminent." Which means that both S&P and Fitch have now been bribed with enough peas to keep their mouths shut. The status quo wins again.

Some other interesting observations:

  • Primary Dealers expect a much smaller fiscal deficit in 2011 than either the CBP or OMB, at $1358BN compared to $1480BN and $1645BN respectively. Which means, if wrong, that Dealers will be on the hook to purchase up to $300 billion more debt than currently modelled. Will they be able to handle this extra load?
  • PDs expect 2011 Marketable Borrowing to be between $980 and $2055 Billion. A rather wide range
  • Bills as a percentage of the portfolio have plunged to decade lows, while coupons are at decade highs
  • From the previous bullet point, the PDs expect the average maturity of debt to continue to increase. We disagree considering the hundreds of billions in Bills that will have to be reissued to make up for the 2 month non-rolling fiasco
  • There is $1.8 trillion in debt refinancing needs in 2011; Just over $1.4 trillion in 2012, and just under $1.1 trillion in 2013. Good luck rolling all of this debt.

The TBAC's conclusion is actually rather spot on:

  • The benefits of extension do not come for free. Historical analysis suggests that shorter term funding has at many times been both cheaper and the volatility costs have not been high
  • Recent cycles of rising rates have not lasted long enough for maturity extension to pay off
  • It is possible, however, that “this time is different” because
    • Nominal rates are much closer to the zero bound than previous periods
    • Deficits are very high historically and rising interest expense less acceptable
    • Concentrated foreign ownership creates less reliable demand
    • The benefits of funding attributable to being the reserve currency may be fading
  • While this presentation has focused exclusively on average maturity, a topic for future study is the impact of the distribution of maturities on total interest expense

That indeed would be an interesting analysis

Full must read presentation: