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The "Pesofication" of the U.S. Dollar

I've dubbed this the "pesofication" of the U.S. dollar.

But we're really talking here about the dollar's long-term demise.

The pesofication of the dollar represents the end of the greenback as a major world currency and figures to be one of the major long-term challenges that we U.S. investors will face.

The dollar's demise was set in motion several years ago. But the greenback's fate was sealed in late April, when U.S. Federal Reserve policymakers had a final chance to take a stand against inflation – and failed to do so.

Let me explain …

Catalysts for the "Pesofication" of the U.S. Dollar

Four years ago, I referred to the U.S. greenback as the "Bernanke peso." I coined this term, reasoning that U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke's decision to cut interest rates even as inflation was accelerating was bound to cause the dollar to lose value at an ever-increasing rate.

My prediction held up for a time, but was then derailed by the little matter of the collapse of the U.S. banking system. However, after the Fed's April 27 meeting, I can report that we're right back on track, and the pesofication of the dollar is progressing with startling rapidity.

That late-April meeting of the central bank's policymaking Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) was the Fed's best chance to set a new course before its $600 billion "quantitative easing" program is scheduled to end on June 30. (The FOMC meeting scheduled for June 20-21 falls too close to the end of the Fed's quantitative-easing/U.S. Treasury-bond-purchase program for a new policy to be established.)

Bernanke seemed to underscore this by announcing that the central bank would, indeed, stop purchasing Treasury bonds on that date. He also explained that, in his view, the "market effect" of bond purchases is determined by the "stock" of bonds outstanding – as opposed to the "flow" of bonds into and out of the market.

We shall see.

Here's my bet: When the Fed stops buying about $225 billion of the Treasury's $400 billion quarterly funding needs, all hell will break loose in the Treasury bond market. After all, the two largest T-bond buyers are not going to be particularly active this summer: The Bank of Japan (BOJ) will be too busy spending money on that country's reconstruction from the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear power plant accident to be buying much U.S. government debt, while its counterpart in Mainland China – the People's Bank of China – has made it clear that it regards the United States as a pretty dodgy credit risk.

On the interest-rate side, Bernanke left the Fed's "extended period" language for holding rates in place at their current level. During his late-April press conference, he explained that "extended period" meant at least two FOMC policy meetings. So if the Fed removed the language in June, it could raise rates in September.

However, the bottom line is this: Interest rates are not going up at least before the end of the summer. And if they do go up at that time, it will likely only be a miniscule increase.

Underestimating the Enemy: Inflation

When it comes to our currency, inflation is public enemy No. 1. And yet, Fed chairman Bernanke remains completely unfazed by the evidence of rising inflation. He takes credit for the rise in stock prices since he began his "QE2" policy last November. But the Fed chief refuses to admit that the prices of gold, oil and other commodities that have really escalated in recent years have anything to do with Fed policy.

Indeed, as far as Bernanke is concerned, the need to pay almost $5 a gallon for gasoline is not his fault and does not indicate any but the most temporary increase in inflation. Even though the Fed solons have raised their inflation forecast for this year, Bernanke still regards the inflation rate as too low, not too high.

First-quarter gross-domestic-product (GDP) figures announced the day after the Fed meeting showed that the "PCE deflator" measure of inflation – the one that the Fed monitors – was running at 3.8% in that quarter. Since the Fed forecasters the day before predicted a PCE-deflator inflation rate of 2.1% to 2.8% for the entire year, you can see that we're pretty clearly off track.

One problem is that Bernanke looks at the so-called "core" rate of inflation in personal consumption expenditures, a figure that is reported several months late and does not include anything whose prices are actually rising. When normal observers see inflation taking off pretty rapidly, Bernanke takes false solace from the fact that – according to his preferred measure – all is quiet on the inflation front.

Be warned: There is every chance that the Fed will lose control, inflation will spiral – and not just to the ruinous levels we saw in the 1970s, but well beyond them, too. Even after that occurs, Bernanke will refuse to launch any sort of significant counterattack, or combat it.

This happened before – back in the 1972-73 time frame – and it took a full decade of punishingly high interest rates and the commitment of a Fed chairman named Paul A. Volcker to solve.

This time around, we may not get so lucky.

Inflation may become much more acute – reaching the excruciating/ruinous 20% to 50% level – rather than reaching and then holding steady at the uncomfortable-but-bearable 10% level.

The Day the Dollar Died?

If we end up with an inflation rate in excess of 20%, the whole game changes. First and foremost, the U.S. dollar is no longer the dollar; it is a peso. And not just any peso – it is a typical-1980s Latin American peso, a currency that devalues on a regular, near-continual basis, and is forced to drop three zeros every decade or so.

At that point, the world will no longer accept the U.S. dollar as a reliable store of value; trade-settlements and other international payments will be diverted into other currencies and even the doziest central bank will stop buying U.S. Treasuries. The dollar will essentially be dead as a major currency.

If that happens, when we write the epitaph for this country's currency, April 27 will be remembered as the "day the dollar died." That was the day that Bernanke and his fellow Fed policymakers failed to capitalize on their final real chance to stuff the inflationary genie back into the bottle – and set the "pesofication" of the greenback into motion.

Actions to Take: To play the decline of the dollar, precious metals are the traditional method – either directly, or through such exchange-traded funds (ETFs) as the SPDR Gold Trust (NYSE: GLD) and the iShares Silver Trust (NYSE: SLV).

You should be aware, however, that both these vehicles are accumulating an increasing "tracking error," as the volatility of gold and silver prices and speculative demand for those metals prevents the funds from tracking gold and silver properly and makes their share prices fall further and further behind those of the actual metals.

Still, poor tracking is better than no tracking, and they remain a more convenient way to play the metals than the metals themselves, where retail investors invariably get ripped off when they want to sell.

In the earlier stages of gold and silver's rise, I was bullish on mining companies, but as the price escalation of the actual metals accelerated, the share prices of the mining companies have failed to follow suit. After all, if gold goes to $5,000 an ounce, but remains there for only a few months, a gold-mining company will be able to sell only a small portion of its total mine reserves at that price.

For another hedge against this dollar-doomsday scenario, take a look at shares of companies or funds in countries that are not subject to U.S. monetary policy. In particular, the iShares MSCI Index ETFs for Germany (NYSE: EWG), South Korea (NYSE: EWY) and Singapore (NYSE: EWS) look like very attractive alternatives.

[Editor's Note: As a global merchant banker Martin Hutchinson guided clients, companies and even entire countries by capitalizing on near-term opportunities, and by riding long-term trends.

Because of its impact on commodity prices, both in the near term and over the long haul, the rising global population requires Hutchinson to search for those more-immediate profit openings, while also scouring the horizon for the long-term trends that can create the hefty profits investors seek.

Indeed, in his "Permanent Wealth Investor" advisory service, Hutchinson has identified one particular global economy that meets all his requirements, and represents such a rich profit play, that we couldn't give it – or the investments he's recommending – away for free.

To find out more about these investments, and Hutchinson's service, check out this link.]

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Join the conversation. Click here to jump to comments…

  1. Phil Steinschneider | June 2, 2011

    As always, Mr. Hutchinson hits the nail on the head. But there are still some questions that remain unanswered…

    1. Wouldn't a sudden shock like a Greek sovereign default or withdrawal from the European Union cause a flight to the dollar, causing it to rise precipitously for at least a time?

    2. With fractional reserve banking as the underlying creator of our monetary base, and so much poorly valued debt teetering on the brink of potential devaluation, wouldn't some market surprise potentially lead to a massive bout of deflation?

    Although I'm certain that the Fed Chairman would do everything in his power to re-inflate a deflating economy (hasn't he done this enough times already?), it remains to be seen if he can do it so quickly that the currency doesn't explode in some way.

    To me, it seems that there are countervailing forces that may end up confounding both the inflationists (of which I am one), and the deflationists.

    I'm not implying that "this time is different," just that "this time is weirder." Never in the history of the world has so much money been printed by so many people in so many places to prop up an unsustainable mountain of debt.

    Is it possible that we might have a hyper-deflationary-inflationary collapse?

    In this scenario currency holdings would simply evaporate. It would be something akin to the greatest short squeeze in all of history. The capital flight would go to tangibles, causing a massive run-up in the price of commodities, while the price of everything else collapses. We'd see a combination of both inflation and deflation at velocities never before experienced. In fact, they'd need to come up with a new name for the phenomenon.

    Everything not included the core rate of inflation would shoot sky-high in value, while non-core items would massively deflate. In essence, the world would be abandoning fiat currencies without anything defined to take their place. No one would be safe and nearly everyone would go bankrupt.

    I'm still trying to visualize this scenario, but it's extremely hard to construct something that has never quite happened before.

    In the end, however, Mr. Hutchinson's recommendation to purchase gold and silver seems like the only way to escape the oncoming train. I'm not quite sure how buying the German, South Korean, and Singaporean indexes would fare, however, as these countries would probably suffer disproportionately in the situation I outline. The commodity-based economies of Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, and Russia, might be the better bets.

    The irresponsible have been getting propped up by the responsible acting irresponsibly, so it only makes sense that now everyone will get punished.

  2. fallingman | June 2, 2011

    Thanks for this good article.

    I would caution people against using GLD and SLV for anything more than short term trading vehicles…unless you want to wake up one day to find gold and silver soaring and the ETFs collapsing because it's been revealed they don't have the bullion they claimed to have.

    Mining shares are cheap and a buy.

  3. Louise Cave | June 2, 2011

    "Pesofication" of the dollar is an imaginative and accurately coined term. I lived in Mexico, was in business there during the turbulent administrations of Echeverria and Lopez Portillo in the '70's and '80's. They disallowed the then-stable dollar as a safety stash, outlawed dollar accounts in the banks, and the economy went on a wild ride with depositors buying foreign travelers' checks from tourists to meet obligations. Mexico did have the U.S. dollar nearby as a safeguard. When our dollars go the same route, what currency can we Americans fall back on? I guess the answer is obvious: precious metals in coin form. You financial soothsayers have been touting it, and I've become a believer.

  4. Raymer | June 2, 2011

    Martin, excellent article as always.

  5. joe | June 2, 2011

    the day the dollar died was the day in 1996 when greenspan gave his 'irrational exuberance' speech and failed to tighten-in fact this was the symbolic opening of the spigot that has basically taken us from there to calamity(here)!!

  6. Jenny Wong | June 2, 2011

    Right, BUY PHYSICAL GOLD & SILVER and hide it. Move your money offshore into more responsible currencies such as the CHF NOK CAD AUD SGD. Use the "paper" GLD/SLV for short term Options Trading.

  7. Werner | June 2, 2011

    Martin, your column is well documented and I am along with your analysis.
    It also shows that divergent opinions are freely expressed on this site, even if I do not make the same interpretation of some. Jack Barnes' theory of the inflection point in the Dollar struck me for its – in my opinion displaced – opinion of a soon to come majour turn around in the USD. Though I consider the Dollar to be grossly undervalued on a purchasing power parity basis, both against the EUR and the CHF – the latter being my home currency, I am unable to buy it on scale, because I think the main danger is still to the downside.
    As long as the US dont get another Paul Volcker like Fed President and a fiscally responsible policy, the outlook seems very dire to me.
    All at MoneyMorning, carry on your good work and give us the necessary insight into what is really happening.

  8. eric taylor | June 3, 2011

    There may be little doubt that the roaring stagflation of the 1970's will come back,
    but this time we have relatively high national debt levels. Before the debt happy
    supply side revolution we at least had half a chance. Real experts estimate that
    2/3rds of our national debt come from war spending and tax cuts for our wealthiest
    neighbors. The rich used to pay some 24% of the tax bill, but now pay only 8-9%–perhaps
    the rich now, finally smell the blood, because they are trying to get out of footing the bill,
    almost any bill, while our domestic content manufacturing is currently at Great Depression
    levels per capita. I think the rats have already jumped ship. Should we all follow?

    Thank You Martin For Your Article

    Eric Wynne Taylor

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