Opinion

The Great Debate

The real winner: Inflation

I buy none of the post-election, prime-time hokum that what decided the presidential race was the Latino vote, women’s issues, the next Supreme Court justices, the view from the fiscal cliff or how drones are winning the War on Terror. This presidential election was, as always, a contest between gold standardists and inflationists.

The victors were the forces of cheap money. William Jennings Bryan would be proud ‑ as would bimetalists and Weimar Republicans.

Inflation won because it is the panacea for all that ails the body politic: a short-term cure-all that promises economic growth, the possibility of paying off runaway national and international debts, new-found prosperity for the middle classes and liquidity for the impoverished, who otherwise would be voting in the streets with rocks and burning tires.

Think of it as doping for those wanting to win political races.

Cheap money defers many liabilities. Real wages for industrials workers have declined since the 1970s.  True unemployment ‑ including those too discouraged to look further and others working part-time for unlivable wages ‑ is closer to 22 percent than the official figure of 7.9 percent. The national debt, $16.3 trillion, exceeds the gross national product. With unfunded entitlement programs, such as Medicare and Social Security, the government is eventually on the hook for an additional $46 trillion, which it would rather not pay with pieces of eight.

The hard-money men have not been able to win many elections since the 19th century, arguing as they do for reductions in the monetary supply; an asset-backed currency (preferably with gold) and policies that lead to deflation. These are a boon to lending institutions that want to get repaid with readily convertible cash, not watered stock.

from The Great Debate UK:

Waiting for the other shoe to drop

USA/

-Laurence Copeland is professor of finance at Cardiff University Business School. The opinions expressed are his own and do not constitute investment advice. -

The unemployed and the terminal insomniacs who have nothing better to do than read my blogs will know that I have long been gloomy about most of the Western economies. How can you fail to be pessimistic when the world economy is still dominated by the U.S. - a basket case, becoming weaker every day, with a political class too blind or too scared to admit in public the obvious fact that the country cannot carry on living beyond its means?

Now house prices are plunging again and, with the dollar still strong, the prospects for an export-led recovery look bleak. In fact, a return to recession is far more likely, and the markets are starting to show signs of that sickening here-we-go-again feeling.

Flight to “safety” eases China diversification

China appears to be taking steps to diversify its holdings away from the U.S. dollar and may just have chosen a pretty good time to do it.

Longer term a meaningful diversification by China, which holds about a third of its $2.45 trillion currency reserves in U.S. Treasuries, is probably both inevitable and highly risky.

Inevitable, because China probably realises that, given the U.S.’s difficult fiscal and economic challenges it is not sensible to have its own fortunes tied so closely to its major client.

Dollar favorite in glue factory derby

The dollar may hang by the slender thread of the U.S. recovery, but this is probably enough to make it the major currency of choice.

It is not so much that the dollar is strong, but that the case for its major peers — the euro, pound and yen — is so weak.

The euro zone faces tremendous pressure; Greece may, just, have been rescued, but it, along with Portugal, Spain, Ireland and Italy are unleashing powerful deflationary forces making quantitative easing by the European Central Bank a real possibility. Further contagion within the euro zone is also a  strong possibility, meaning market risk will compound fundamental risk.

Be careful what you wish for on currencies

The rancorous argument about global payment imbalances and the yuan’s valuation is exposing a surprising and dangerous economic illiteracy among policymakers and commentators.

Before pressing China to allow a maxi-revaluation of the yuan, western commentators need to think through the consequences carefully. The idea that devaluing the dollar (and by extension euro and yen) will cause payment imbalances to disappear and boost employment in the West with little or no impact on inflation and living standards is a pipe dream.

MAXI-DEVALUATION
First some notes about terminology. Proponents generally phrase their argument in terms of an appreciation of the yuan (which keeps the focus on the alleged currency manipulators in China). But it could just as easily be recast as a depreciation of the dollar (which is a much more controversial formulation, highlighting the fact that the exchange rate problem reflects U.S. weakness as much as China’s strength).

Real commodity prices and the U.S. rate cycle

– John Kemp is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own. –

Commodity prices exhibit a strong cyclical component — though it can be masked when producers are carrying a lot of excess capacity.

The attached chart shows the real price of various commodity baskets (Jan 1980=100) overlaid by U.S. interest rates (discount rate, later funds target), and the business cycle (NBER Business Cycle Dating Committee).

Welcome to the Teenies, sorry about those returns

saft2.jpg
-James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own-

As we say goodbye to a decade so abysmal it never even earned a nickname, it is time to take bets on how the coming 10 years will shape up in economics and financial markets.

Welcome, then, to the Teenies, a word that will describe the decade as well as the small returns in financial markets and the shrinking financial sector it will bring.

So, let’s run through some themes for the 2010s:

Banking – The decade will end with meaningful reform of banking in place, but what is not clear is if this happens soon or only after a new banking crisis brought on by an unwillingness to take tough steps now. The likelihood is that regulation limits leverage and causes the share of the economy captured by financial services to shrink. It will be a lousy decade to be a shareholder, but given the government backing, perhaps not a bad one to be a bondholder.

Dollar faces long journey downward

cr_lrg_108_jamessaft1.jpg

- James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own –

Even putting aside the spectacular but hard-to-measure risks of a financing crisis or the loss of its special status, the dollar faces really serious headwinds from boring old fundamentals.

The dollar has been weak for months and markets have been fretting over a host of big picture worries.

Perhaps the world’s oil exporters will stop using the dollar as the medium for petroleum trade. Or maybe the so-far patient and docile buyers of Treasuries will finally turn jittery. Either could be a disaster for the dollar, but you don’t need conspiracies or crises to be bearish on a currency from a country which on some measures has run the largest-ever deficit between what it imports and what it sells abroad.

Who lost the dollar?

James Pethokoukis – James Pethokoukis is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own –

The state of the dollar probably hasn’t been a first-tier political issue in the United States since, say, the presidential election of 1896. Back then, it manifested as whether or not America would stay on the gold standard or switch to a bimetallic one. (The William Jennings Bryan “cross of gold” speech and all that.)

The aftershocks of the global financial crisis may now be propelling the dollar back to the political forefront. The greenback’s continuing slide makes it a handy metric that neatly encapsulates America’s current economic troubles and possible long-term decline. House Republicans for instance, have been using the weaker dollar as a weapon in their attacks on the Bernanke-led Federal Reserve.

from Rolfe Winkler:

Gold as Armageddon insurance

Deflation could be the biggest threat to the economy, but gold -- usually an inflation hedge -- is reaching new highs. That's because smart investors aren't playing the inflation trade, they're buying currency crisis insurance.

With the amount being spent by the public sector, with the huge amounts of leverage still in the system, there's a palpable fear that America won't be able to meet its obligations. Relative to GDP, the amount we're borrowing to finance deficits makes us look irresponsible.

When such economies hit a wall, investors make a run on the currency, typically moving their assets to a stronger currency, like the dollar.

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