Many have wondered - and rightly so - why the U.S. dollar is rising even though the U.S. Federal Reserve has done just about everything possible to debase the currency over the past five years.
Over the past two years, the U.S. Dollar index, which measures the dollar against a basket of major world currencies, is up by more than 12.6%.
Part of the answer is that most of the world's other central banks have pursued easy money policies similar to the Fed's. In the so-called "currency wars," the U.S. dollar has one major built-in advantage.
"The U.S. has never defaulted," explained Money Morning Chief Investment Strategist Keith Fitz-Gerald. "The world may hate our guts, but when all hell breaks loose, they all love our dollar."
Also helping to explain why the U.S. dollar is rising is that it remains the world's reserve currency - the money a majority of nations use to buy commodities such as oil -- and that the U.S. economy, for all its warts, is in better shape than most of the other developed economies in the world.
"The dollar the best-looking horse in the glue factory," Fitz-Gerald said.
So it wasn't too surprising that when the Fed recently hinted that it might start "tapering" its quantitative easing (bond-buying) policies later this year, the U.S. Dollar index spiked 3.1%.
But Fitz-Gerald said that investors still need to be wary of the stronger U.S. dollar going forward.
This Sept. 2 Event Could Send the U.S. Dollar Crashing
The Fed Or the Fundamentals? What's Behind Stock Market Moves?
What's driving the stock market - the Fed or company fundamentals?
The answer, of course, depends whom you ask.
Has most or all of the growth in the market over the past few years been due to the Fed's massive QE easy money stimulus?
Or is it fundamentals like earnings per share and the price/earnings ratio?
We asked three experts to weigh in: Money Morning Chief Investment Strategist Keith Fitz-Gerald, Money Morning Capital Wave Strategist Shah Gilani and Brian Wesbury, the chief economist at First Trust Advisors.
Here's their take.
What to Do Now as the End of QE Nears
If investors needed a reminder that global stock market rallies have been goosed by the Fed's lose monetary measures, they got it.
On Wednesday, U.S. equities went on roller-coaster ride.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average, up 155 points before FOMC Chairman Ben Bernanke said the Fed could soon begin to tap the brakes, ended the day down 80.41, or off by 0.5%,.
The uncertainty of when the Fed would begin to wind down its $85 billion-a-month in asset purchases sent investors to the sidelines in a hurry.
"This is a very sensitive market and particularity sensitive to any notion that tapering will come too soon," Quincy Krosby, market strategist at Prudential Financial in New York told Reuters.
"No one wants to be selling if the data reaches the point when the Fed begins to specifically talk about tapering. The market doesn't wait for the Fed to move. It will move before. That's how it operates," Krosby continued.
Of course, we knew QE couldn't really last forever. So what should investors do?..
The New Crisis Warning Just Issued to the Federal Reserve
Before the housing market crash, economists warned that record low-interest and mortgage rates were fueling a housing bubble.
Unfortunately, those fears were both overlooked and underestimated.
Now, an advisory council to the U.S. Federal Reserve is warning the Fed that its record $85 billon-a-month stimulus and ultra-low interest rates are fueling new bubbles in student loans and farmland.
"Recent growth in student-loan debt, to nearly $1 trillion, now exceeds credit-card outstandings and has parallels to the housing crisis," according to minutes of the council's Feb. 8 meeting.
In addition, "agricultural land prices are veering further from what makes sense," the council said. "Members believe the run-up in agriculture land prices is a bubble resulting from persistently low interest rates."
What You Absolutely Need to Know About Money (Part 6)
Our last chapter was about how the U.S. Federal Reserve was created and why. But it ended with an extreme example of how the universal central banking model works today.
As another domino threatened the house of cards holding up European banks, more money had to be pumped into Cypriot banks so their doors didn't close and rapid contagion wouldn't implode all of Europe, and then the world.
Only this time was different.
The European Central Bank (ECB) reached straight into Cypriot bank depositors' pockets and stole about $6 billion from them. The "how" isn't important. It's a simple equation, as revealed in Part V. Governments are the backstoppers of central banks; that's where their authority ultimately comes from.
Why did the ECB steal depositors' money? So they could turn around and lend that and more to the insolvent banks to keep them alive. It's the latest twist in the old "extend and pretend" game.
The big question is, how did banks get so big and so dangerous in the first place?
Or, how did stodgy traditional banking morph into "casino banking" on a global scale?
Here's how it started...
There's More Than One Way for the Fed to End QE
The market has been looking ahead to the inevitable end of the U.S. Federal Reserve's quantitative easing (QE) program with considerable apprehension.
Most market observers expect the end of the Fed's QE asset-purchasing program to immediately result in a sharp sell-off in bonds and higher interest rates.
This is expected to hit the mortgage-backed securities (MBS) market, where the Fed has been very active, quite hard.
As part of a policy to communicate more openly with the markets, Chairman Ben Bernanke and the Fed have been regularly launching QE exit strategy trial balloons into the market to see how quickly they get shot down.
The latest exit strategy that has been gaining traction is the idea of "tapering" QE asset purchases so that there isn't a sudden halt to supply of money flowing from the Fed into the Treasury and MBS markets. The markets seem to be pretty sanguine about the tapering idea, although there has been no specific suggestion on timing.
Instead, the markets have been concentrating on how the Fed will get rid of all of the assets it has accumulated on its balance sheet during the QE program.
Prepare for Years of "QE Forever' with Ben Bernanke at the Helm
When Ben Bernanke testified before Congress Tuesday and Wednesday, he staunchly defended his easy- money policies like quantitative easing, or "QE Forever."
"We do not see the potential costs of the increased risk-taking in some financial markets as outweighing the benefits of promoting a stronger economic recovery," the Federal Reserve chairman said.
Bernanke added the central bank takes "very seriously" the excessive risk-taking its dovish policies could provoke and is watching markets carefully.
He maintained that the bank's accommodative monetary policy has "supported real growth in employment and kept inflation close to our target [2%]."
But some Fed officials are growing concerned about quantitative easing - the Fed's purchases of $85 billion in securities a month - and believe it would be prudent to slow or stop the buying well before the end of 2013. Esther George, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, is one of the biggest hawks in the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) this year, citing unease about economic stability and inflation.
"While I share the objectives [of the FOMC]," George said in a Feb. 12 speech at the University of Nebraska Omaha, "I dissented because of possible risks and the possible costs of these policies exceeding their benefits...While I have agreed with keeping rates low to support this recovery, I know keeping interest rates near zero has its own consequences."
Despite the increasingly anxious sentiment, as long as Bernanke remains at the helm, QE Forever will be the policy. Here's why.
What Every Investor Should Know About the End of QE
Equity markets around the world yesterday expressed their distaste for the possible end of the Federal Reserve's quantitative easing (QE) policy.
Share prices tumbled from New York to Tokyo. Even resource-rich Australia and emerging markets, including China, saw shares decline following the release of the minutes of last month's Federal Open Market Committee meeting.
What upset the markets was a discussion at the January FOMC meeting about when and, more importantly, how to end the current QE policy.
As someone put it on Bloomberg Radio yesterday, "Would the markets have been happier if the FOMC was ignoring the issue of how to end QE?"
To understand how ending the QE policy might affect the economy and markets, investors need to understand how QE operates.
FOMC Preview: Will the Fed Continue its $85B/Month Bond-Buying Program?
Investors will be looking to the Federal Reserve Wednesday for clues about how long it might continue its bond-buying program aimed at pushing interest rates down.
The Federal Open Market Committee is expected to release a policy statement at 2:15 p.m. Wednesday, the second day of its two-day meeting.
In keeping with a practice it began last January, the first meeting of the new year will highlight the FOMC's long-term goals and monetary policy.
The Central Bank likely will reiterate the goal it has maintained all of last year: boosting the stagnant U.S. economy.The Fed's first meeting of 2013 comes after an extraordinarily busy year, capped by two key moves in December.
That's when the Fed said it would continue spending $85 billion a month on bond purchases to keep interest rates low. At the same time, the Fed set unemployment and inflation "thresholds" instead of a date when the central bank expected to be able to raise interest rates.
Will the Fed End QE This Summer?
Amid all of the hoopla over the Standard & Poor's 500 Index touching 1,500 on Friday, it seems few people noticed that the yield on 10-year U.S. Treasury bonds has risen to within a couple of basis points of 2%. That is nearly 30 basis points higher than it was one month ago and 10 basis points higher than one year ago.
It seems as if the bond market is beginning to price in higher inflation at the long end of the yield curve, and that is something that has got to be worrying the Fed.
Successive rounds of quantitative easing (QE) have added a lot of liquidity to the U.S. economy and this has been repeated globally with massive amounts of liquidity being pumped into the market by the Bank of Japan (BOJ), the European Central Bank (ECB) and the Bank of England (BOE).
The Bank of Japan has committed itself to further aggressive easing under pressure from the newly elected government headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Even if BOJ Governor Masaaki Shirakawa has any second thoughts about additional easing, he will keep them to himself.