Why a Rising Euro is Likely Despite Draghi Comments
European Central Bank President Mario Draghi warned about excessive euro strength at a press conference today (Thursday) following his announcement that the ECB had left interest rates unchanged, as expected.
In response to a reporter's question on whether there was a currency war in progress, Draghi said, "I think we should have in mind one thing: changes in the exchange rates that we see today are not really deliberate competitive devaluations. They are more the effect of macroeconomic policies that are meant to revamp the economies – for example, very low interest rates, promises to stay low for a very long time.
"However, if these policies produce consequences on the exchange rates that do not reflect the G20 consensus, we will have to discuss this."
Draghi said the exchange rate is not a "policy target" but is "important for growth and price stability," adding, "We certainly want to see whether the appreciation – if sustained – will alter our risk assessment as far as price stability is concerned."
Observers blogging and tweeting from the room where the press conference was being held felt Draghi was being very careful in choosing his words and interpreted this as a sign that he was, in fact, attempting to talk down the euro or at least slow its rise against other major currencies.
Traders immediately sold the euro against the U.S. dollar and against the Japanese yen. The euro is currently trading down about 200 pips against the U.S. dollar and is off more than 150 pips against the Japanese yen.
There is no doubt Draghi succeeded in halting the rise of the euro, at least for today. But if the ECB is serious about putting a lid on the euro's strength, its options are limited.
Because the ECB must take into account the laws and preferences of its constituent national central banks, it would not be easy to intervene in the foreign exchanges market – except in extreme circumstances – or to undertake a competitive expansion of the ECB balance sheet as the Fed and the Bank of Japan are doing.
The ECB could create new credit by purchasing private-sector assets, as the Bank of England and the Bank of Japan have done, but it is unclear how the conservative Germans would react to such a plan.
Or Draghi could just keep talking.
Peter Schiff: "At some point, the dollar has to give"
While the U.S Federal Reserve claims it needs to keep interest rates near zero to help the economy, renowned economist Peter Schiff says there's another reason.
According to Schiff, the Fed has little choice: If rates began to climb, the interest payments on the ballooning federal debt would explode making annual budget deficits far worse.
"We're now so addicted to debt that the highest rate we can afford is zero," Schiff, the CEO and chief global strategist of Euro Pacific Capital, told Casey Research chairman Doug Casey in a video interview published today.
"We pay about $300 billion a year right now in interest on a $16.5 trillion debt," Schiff explained. "What if, in two or three years — and the debt is $20 trillion — what happens if interest rates are 5%? Well, that's $1 trillion a year in interest payments."
This scenario is not at all far-fetched; the historic norm for interest rates is just below 5%, and rates in the early 1980s were triple that.
Another reason the Fed fears higher rates, Schiff said, is that it would probably bankrupt most of the "too-big-to-fail" banks that the government bailed out back in 2008.
"The only justification for keeping rates so low is that the Fed knows any increase in rates will collapse this phony economy and we'll be right back in recession," Schiff said.
Hyperinflation in America: When a Loaf of Bread is $3 Billion
Too few understand just how disruptive hyperinflation in America would be.
Truth is, it would be a nightmare.
In an episode of hyperinflation, money loses value so rapidly that people spend it as quickly as possible, which only feeds the cycle of pushing prices higher and higher at a faster and faster rate.
Imagine prices at the food store and gas pump not just going up a few cents at a time, but doubling in a matter of months, weeks, or even days.
And now some economists and market experts think many of the ingredients for hyperinflation are brewing in America.
That's because years of profligate U.S. government borrowing and spending have created trillions of dollars that lurk in the reserves of foreign countries and major financial institutions. The situation escalated after the 2008 financial crisis, with the U.S. Federal Reserve's policies of "quantitative easing" creating even more money.
"The U.S. government and the Federal Reserve have committed the system to its ultimate insolvency, through the easy politics of a bottomless pocketbook, the servicing of big-moneyed special interests, gross mismanagement, and a deliberate and ongoing effort to debase the U.S. currency," said John Williams of Shadow Government Statistics in his annual report on hyperinflation.
Historically, governments that have suffered bouts of hyperinflation – most notoriously Weimar Germany from 1922-1923 – have set the table by printing too much money during a time of economic contraction.
The trouble is, once it starts it's impossible to stop. Hyperinflation in America isn't here yet, but we're edging dangerously close to the point of no return.
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Investing in Silver: States Support Move to Metals as Dollar Weakens
Fears over where the dollar is headed – especially with continued money printing from the central bank – has pushed safety-seekers into investing in silver and gold. Demand has also pushed gold and silver prices to new highs.
The idea of using gold and silver as an alternative currency has spread as the metals have grown more valuable.
In fact, worries that the U.S. dollar is on the cusp of a collapse have lawmakers from more than a dozen states (up from just three in the past few years) seeking approval from their state governments to either issue their own alternative currency or use gold and silver as a currency for settlement of state-related transactions.
Rep. Glen Bradley, R-NC, who introduced a currency bill in 2011, told CNN Money, "In the event of hyperinflation, depression, or other economic calamity related to the breakdown of the Federal Reserve System… the State's governmental finances and private economy will be thrown into chaos."
Three Reasons Why the U.S. Dollar is Really Rising
By all accounts, the U.S. dollar should be the functional equivalent of a Zimbabwean bill.
The Fed has pumped trillions into the worldwide financial system as part of misguided stimulus efforts that should be incredibly inflationary.
Yet, instead of a disastrous repeat of the Weimar Republic, the U.S. dollar has strengthened considerably.
This despite rising unemployment, slowing economic growth and a debt debate that's about to begin anew.
Since last July, the U.S. dollar has risen against all 16 major currencies while the Intercontinental Exchange Dollar Index is up 12%, according to Bloomberg.
In fact, the greenback is now higher than it was when the Fed engaged in Operation Twist in late 2011 as part of a plan to keep the dollar low by buying bonds.
So much for Club Fed's plans…
As usual, they don't really have a clue about how real money works — let alone why it flows and where it's going.
Taking the Mystery Out of the U.S. Dollar
Here are the three reasons why the U.S. dollar is really rising:
1. Institutions are unloading gold to raise cash against anticipated margin calls, redemption requests, or both. They are parking that money in treasuries and in dollars, creating additional demand. There are simply more buyers than sellers at the moment, so prices for dollars and treasuries are rising. And not just by small amounts, either.
2. Institutional portfolio managers and traders are required to maintain specific classes of assets under very specific guidelines. These guidelines dictate everything from the amounts being held to the quality of specific investments.
Many, for example, are required to hold only AAA-rated bonds, or invest in stocks meeting certain income, asset size and volatility criteria.
Imagine you're Jamie Dimon and you have to hold reserves against trading losses or you're Mark Zuckerberg and you've got to build up a large legal settlement fund for the Facebook IPO.
Or, perhaps you're Tim Cook of Apple and you're sitting on $110 billion in cash for future investments.
Chances are you're going to want to buy things that are as close to risk-free as possible to ensure your assets hold their value.
A year ago, you could choose from eight currencies in the G10 that met internationally accepted "risk-free" ratings criteria as measured by the cost of credit default swaps priced under 100 basis points.
Now, there are only five to choose from. A year from now, there might only be two or three.
How to Avoid the Approaching Bond Market Debacle
If you're an income investor, you probably feel like you're in one of those nightmares where you're trying to run like hell – but aren't getting anywhere.
Martin Hutchinson and I were talking about this predicament last week.
As editor of the Permanent Wealth Investor, Martin is our income guru here at Money Map Press. His advice on how to thrive in this lousy-income environment was so good that I had to pass it along to you – along with one of his favorite income plays.
Traditionally, bonds – especially U.S. Treasury bonds – are the favored holding of income-seekers. But bonds face two big challenges right now – and we have the U.S. Federal Reserve to thank for both of them.
First, thanks to the ultra-low-interest-rate policies of the nation's central bank, Treasury bonds are yielding next to nothing. When I looked Friday afternoon, the 10-year was yielding 1.94% and the 30-year 3.12%.
Now, according to the latest federal figures, the U.S. consumer price index (CPI) fell to 2.7% in March from 2.9% in February. The CPI is the "official" gauge of U.S. inflation. But as we explained back on March 2, this is a bogus number.
The American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) says everyday prices – the ones that matter most to working Americans – are up a good 8% over the past year.
So income investors who stick to traditional tactics are actually losing ground to inflation. And you absolutely don't want to outlive your money.
If that were the only problem, it would be pretty bad. But there's a second challenge – and it's a doozy.
You see, the central bank's Federal Funds rate – the benchmark that helps determine most borrowing rates that American consumers and businesses pay – remains down near zero. And while no one can predict with certainty when rates will change, there is one thing you can bank on: When rates do change, they can only go up.
And since bond prices move opposite interest rates (bond prices fall when rates rise, and vice versa), those fixed-income securities will take a beating when rates increase.
And so will the investors who hold them.
Money-Markets, CDs, and Bonds: The Ups and Downs of Stashing Your Cash
In today's volatile markets many investors are faced with the same troublesome question – "Where should I park my cash?"
In fact, investors have withdrawn a net total of $328 billion from the stock market since 2007, according to Strategic Insight.
Ever since, a big portion that cash has been looking for a home.
It seems simple enough, but investors are finding the answer to be more complicated than they imagined…
Thanks to our friends at the Federal Reserve, interest rates are at record lows. In fact, they're so low that most investors are getting practically nothing in returns.
Meanwhile, the stock market has put on a New Year's rally, rewarding those who were willing to jump in while leaving cautious investors wondering if they're holding too much boring old cash.
However, in order to have an adequate safety net, your cash on hand should be enough to cover about a year's worth of expenses, according to Shah Gilani, a retired hedge fund manager and Editor of the acclaimed Wall Street Insights & Indictments newsletter.
"That's a good safety net," Shah says.
But no matter how much cash you hold, you still have to balance your need for higher returns against your risk tolerance.
Because whether you're thinking "safety first" or are tempted to reach for a little more yield, the choice you make might determine whether you're able to sleep at night.
Three Places to Park Your Cash
With that in mind, here's a look at three of the most popular places to park your cash.
2012 U.S. Dollar Outlook: How to Play A Short-Term Rally
2012 U.S. Dollar Outlook: How to Play A Short-Term Rally
The U.S. dollar will start 2012 on an upswing – but don't let it fool you.
What we're seeing is only a short-term rally inspired by Europe's travails. In the long-term, the U.S. Federal Reserve's loose monetary policy and the United States' own debt burden will drive the greenback back down.
That's the consensus among experts who follow the global money markets and the leading currencies, including several of Money Morning's own analysts.
"The dollar is going to rally in the short-term so long as the primary liquidity mechanism (used by the world's central banks) continues to be dollar swaps," said Money Morning Chief Investment Strategist Keith Fitz-Gerald. "How long that is going to last is uncertain – perhaps March, April or beyond – but once it abates, our own enormous debt problems and inflationary policies will return to the spotlight and the dollar will quickly give up its recent gains."
Indeed, the dollar rallied in the second half of 2011, as Europe's debt battle dominated the headlines. The U.S. Dollar Index, which measures the dollar's value against a basket of foreign currencies, ended about 10% higher than its May 2011 lows, gaining almost 3% in November.
That momentum is likely to continue for the first part of the New Year, but not long after.
Several economic factors will weigh far too heavily on the currency for the upward move to continue – although it's not clear exactly when the short-term surge will lose steam. And investors who understand what's really driving the U.S. dollar's value in 2012 can avoid getting burned by the currency's long-term decline.
Short-Term Help from Europe
"The ECB (European Central Bank) will be left with little choice in saving banks and their sorry sovereigns other than to print, print, print euros, and more of something almost always leads to a lower price," said CNBC News' Brian Sullivan, who thinks the U.S. dollar will reach parity with the euro in 2012.
The euro fell to a 15-month low against the dollar in the last week of 2011. It traded yesterday (Monday) as low as $1.2930.
U.S. dollar value has also been driven higher recently by increased demand, since the central banks in Europe, the United States, Great Britain, Japan, Canada and Switzerland have all agreed to lower the interest rates on dollar swaps.
"Dollar swaps – you know, those little arrangements that allow foreign banks to swap their unloved currencies for dollars – … really come in handy when there's a panic and a flight to the safety of U.S. Treasuries," Money Morning Capital Waves Strategist Shah Gilani explained. Since U.S. Treasury securities must be purchased with dollars, increased demand boosts the currency's value.
However, the overwhelming long-term outlook for the U.S. currency is still bearish, mostly due to the weak U.S. economic outlook for 2012.
"The dollar is enjoying a safe-haven status, but long run I'm not a fan of the U.S. dollar," Dr. Allen Sinai, chief global economist at Decision Economics, told Forbes. "Our country has too many problems – with long run growth forecasts, deficits and how the politics of our country operates are all a negative."
Holiday Retail Sales Set to Slide Amid High Unemployment and Low Consumer Confidence
Holiday retail sales – which account for almost 40% of retail revenue, worth $453 billion in sales last year – are in jeopardy.
Consumer spending continues to be restrained by an unemployment rate that has stayed above 9% for 26 of the past 28 months. Furthermore, rising food and gasoline costs, fears of a new recession, the loss of equity from the housing collapse, and mountains of leftover credit card debt have prospective purchasers tightening their purse strings.
And adding to consumers' woes, income fell for the first time in almost two years in August, dropping a seasonally adjusted 0.1%, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.
Now the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) said it expects holiday retail sales to be up 3% this year, down from the 4.1% increase last year, and markedly lower than the 5%-plus gains seen in prosperous economic times.
Consumers are definitely not in much of a spending mood. The 45.4 September reading of the Consumer Confidence Index, although it was up slightly from August, is far below the 70.4 level it had reached in February. The index usually is over 90 in a thriving economy.
Even more damning, Americans are almost universally pessimistic about the U.S. economy. In a recent CNN/ORC International poll, 90% of Americans said economic conditions were "poor," up from 81% in June.
Another survey, conducted last month by AlixParters LLP, found that 41% of consumers planned to spend less on holiday shopping this year. That's up from 31% last year.
Competing for Dollars
That means holiday retail sales will be captive to bargains and deals more than ever this year, particularly at discount and mid-level retailers.