If thinking is Wrong – and the Dollar stopped falling….

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Today’s Outside the Box comes to us from England. My European partner Niels Jensen from time to time sends me some of the best letters he reads from the hedge fund world. He is an excellent filter for me, and this week’s Outside the Box offering is no exception. Below is the November commentary from Eclectica fund manager Hugh Hendry. He challenges the current preoccupation with the falling dollar and China, and posits what would happen if that thinking is wrong? It offers some very thought-provoking ideas. You can contact them for more information at info@eclectica-am.com or visit their website: http://www.eclectica-am.com

Your wondering if we are all turning Japanese analyst,

John Mauldin, Editor
Outside the Box


Eclectica November Commentary

by Hugh Hendry – Eclectica Fund Manager

“The power to become habituated to his surroundings is a marked characteristic of mankind.”
John Maynard Keynes The Economic Consequences of the Peace, 1921

This month I will attempt to answer the entrance examination for the Chinese civil service. That is to say, I will attempt to tell you everything that I know. In doing so, I will argue that this year’s rally in inflationary assets, from emerging stock markets to industrial commodities to the fall in the US dollar, could be a FAKE. Let me explain why.

But first, I am indebted to Scott Sumner, professor of economics at the University of Bentley, and his essay on the economic lessons that can be drawn from timelessness in art (see http://blogsandwikis.bentley.edu/themoneyillusion/?p=2542). It is a theme that I will constantly revisit in my arguments below.

Sumner is able to take us from the Flemish forger, Van Meegeren, and his horrendous reproductions of the Dutch painter, Vermeer, to the notion that every recession seems unique and special to its protagonists. So just how did Van Meegeren fool the Nazis with paintings that today look so awful, so un-Vermeer? Jonathan Lopez, the noted art historian, argues that a FAKE succeeds owing to its power to sway the contemporary mind. Or in other words, the best forgeries tend to pay homage to the tastes and prejudices of their time. The present is so seductive.

However, forget the art world. Controlling the psyche of this generation of investor is the indelible mark of the falling dollar and the associated fear of inflation. Monetary inflation has been the distinguishing feature of the last ten years, and it is now firmly embedded in the contemporary mind. I am sure I need not remind you that gold, along with just about every other commodity, has at least quadrupled in price since 1999. You already know my explanation for why this has happened.

The spectacular rise in the Chinese trade surplus, predominantly with America, to $320bn per annum at its peak in 2007, and the mercantilist desire to prevent currency appreciation drove the Asians and the sheiks to buy Treasuries and print their own currencies. The ability of fractional reserve banking to leverage this liquidity many times over provided the monetary mo-jo to instigate ever higher commodity prices. In other words, quantitative easing, masquerading as a cheap but fixed currency regime, has succeeded where Japan’s orthodox version has failed. The QE succeeded because, amongst other features, it raised the velocity of monetary circulation.

However, it was not always like this. As an example, ten years ago it was unthinkable that the dollar would prove so fragile. Recall that back then, when the euro was first launched in 1999, it promptly lost 31% of its value against the greenback. The subsequent reconstruction of modern China, though, intervened. In order to finance the emergence of a new economic superpower, an abundance of dollars was needed. Have no doubt that had we not had the dollar as a reserve currency, the rise of China would not have been as swift nor as decisive.

The Yellow Brick Road

Consider another economy needing to be rebuilt: that of the United States in 1865, the post Civil War era. The rebirth of the American economy was funded from the monetary rectitude of the gold standard, not from the generosity of a foreign and infinitely expandable paper currency. However, all of this occurred before the discovery of cyanide for heap-leaching and the opening up of the huge South African gold fields. In other words, hard money was in tight supply and the recovery was neither swift nor decisive. Indeed, 30 years later, during the presidential election campaign of 1896, Williams Jennings Bryan was still hotly contesting its merits. He railed against the persistent price deflation and argued that the economy was burdened by a “cross of gold” (see The Eclectica Fund Report, December 2005).

Perhaps I Should Stick to the Twenty-First Century?

My previous investment letter attempted to explain the subtleties of the Triffen dilemma and the dollar’s pre-eminent role in regenerating modern day economies. Let me repeat once more: lots of dollars were required, and duly delivered, to build modern China. They did not have to wait on the vagaries of a gold discovery to promote and sustain their economic engine. Instead, they required the willingness of their trade partners to run trade deficits. The US delivered and, partly as a consequence, the Fed’s broader trade weighted dollar index has now fallen 20% since its peak in 2002 (the narrower DXY index compiled by the Intercontinental Exchange has fallen more, but excludes the renminbi and overstates the role of the euro). In return, the world has a new $4trn trading partner: China.

Heady stuff, but not without precedent: recall the Marshall Plan, a watershed American aid program that assisted the reconstruction of the Western European economy during the 1950s and 60s. This was further augmented by America’s willingness to run trade deficits, the modern day equivalent to a gold discovery, which became necessary to sustain the emergence of the new economic trading bloc. This resulted in the dollar’s huge devaluation versus gold in the 1970s. However, back then, the broad trade weighted index kept rising. This time it has fallen sharply.

…..read more HERE (scroll down to the title below)


What an Ungrateful Lot we Are?

The dollar’s role as the world’s sole reserve currency has both assisted and accelerated the development of world trade……