China is Not Ready to Pull the Plug on America

A very interesting article on alt-market asks a question I have been contemplating these past few weeks. In my view, America’s economic health is totally dependent upon two things: the flow of dollars to the middle east in exchange for oil, and the flow of dollars to China for consumer goods. Any disruption to either or both of these flows would result in sustained and significant disruption to America’s economy. That’s why America — absent of any real plan to move its energy generation, and its supply chains back to America — spends so much money policing the world.

So, that brings us onto the question: What would happen if China liquidated its dollar and bond holdings and moved its wealth into harder assets? And is China on the verge of doing just that?

From alt-market:

There are two mainstream market assumptions that, in my mind, prevail over all others. The continuing function of the Dow, the sustained flow of capital into and out of the banking sector, and the full force spending of the federal government are ALL entirely dependent on the lifespan of these dual illusions; one, that the U.S. Dollar is a legitimate safe haven investment and will remain so indefinitely, and two, that China, like many other developing nations, will continue to prop up the strength of the dollar indefinitely because it is “in their best interest”. In the dimly lit bowels of Wall Street such ideas are so entrenched and pervasive, to question their validity is almost sacrilegious. Only after the recent S&P downgrade of America’s AAA credit rating did the impossible become thinkable to some MSM analysts, though a considerable portion of the day-trading herd continue to roll onward, while the time bomb strapped to the ass end of their financial house is ticking away.

The debate over the health and longevity of the dollar comes down to one very simple and undeniable root pillar of economics; supply and demand. The supply of dollars throughout the financial systems of numerous countries is undoubtedly overwhelming. In fact, the private Federal Reserve has been quite careful in maintaining a veil of secrecy over the full extent of dollar saturation in foreign markets in order to hide the sheer volume of greenback devaluation and inflation they have created. If for some reason the reserves of dollars held overseas by investors and creditors were to come flooding back into the U.S., we would see a hyperinflationary spiral more destructive than any in recorded history. As the supply of dollars around the globe increases exponentially, so too must foreign demand, otherwise, the debt machine short-circuits, and newly impoverished Americans will be using Ben Franklins for sod in their adobe huts. As I will show, demand for dollars is not increasing to match supply, but is indeed stalled, ready to crumble.

We know from insiders in the Chinese government that China are looking at “liquidating more of our holdings of Treasuries once the US Treasury market stabilizes”, and “buying stakes in Boeing, Intel, and Apple and these types of companies… in a proactive way”, and of course gold. But does that mean China will be liquidating as soon as possible? After all Bernanke won’t stop printing, the dollar won’t stop being devalued, and America won’t stop burning through its productive capital on military spending.

I don’t believe they will. Wen Jiabao’s subtle and supportive public remarks during Joe Biden’s recent visit suggests that China wants a controlled and managed transition away from the dollar as the global reserve currency. Withdrawing support for the dollar right now would send China’s remaining dollar pile crashing into the earth.

From the Council on Foreign Relations:

China has accumulated a massive stock of U.S. dollar reserves in recent years. Statements of concern from China regarding the risk that U.S. economic policy might undermine the future purchasing power of these assets has fuelled the market’s concern that China may shift away from dollar purchases. Yet in the 12 months ending in July 2009 China accumulated more dollar-denominated assets, mainly U.S. Treasuries, than foreign assets in total. Despite its rhetoric, China has thus far taken no actions to wean itself off of the dollar.

And as I have noted numerous times, China has no interest in upsetting the global balance — under the current circumstances it is very rapidly strengthening, whilst America falters. And why change something that is working for China?

So when will China pull the plug? There are a few relevant pictures to watch:

  1. China’s gold reserves: currently at 1,000 tonnes, these would have to go significantly higher.
  2. China’s acquisitions of American industry: this would signify Chinese dollar-outflows.
  3. China’s holdings of U.S. debt: if Bernanke keeps printing, these would have to remain stable, or more likely tip-toe lower.
  4. Flotation of the yuan: if China wishes to curb domestic inflationary pressures, they will float the yuan on global markets. A successful yuan flotation would cut the relative value of China’s dollar holdings, lessening the incentive to hang onto U.S.-denominated assets

I expect all of these developments to take place over years, not months. And, in my view, the greatest threat to the dollar’s status as global reserve currency is a global oil shock, triggered by a new middle eastern war, or some black swan. And it is an oil shock that is precisely the event that might force China to accelerate offloading its dollar hoard.

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Big Change For Europe?

I am sure the Euro will oblige us to introduce a new set of economic policy instruments. It is politically impossible to propose that now. But some day there will be a crisis and new instruments will be created.

— Romano Prodi, EU Commission President, December 2001

So the intent for Europe was always that a future crisis would bring about the justification for a resolution to European financial disharmony — namely, that while countries in the Euro control their own budgets, they don’t control their own currency. This mismatch means that with countries pulling in different directions, the European Central Bank is posed with an unmanageable task — create one policy to fit a group of very different economies. At the time of the Euro’s creation, Europe adopted a cross-that-bridge-when-we-come-to-it approach: a crisis would produce the circumstances required to justify unifying fiscal policy, a policy that at the time of the Euro’s introduction seemed unnecessary (and now is deeply unpopular).

But what if disharmony — both in terms of the forces producing the crisis, and disagreement over how to handle the problems — has created such a huge turmoil that instead of crossing the bridge, Europe falls into the water beneath?

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Can Bernanke Print Gold?

This week, I looked at America priced in gold — and noted that America is experiencing gold-denominated deflation. This means that when assets are priced in gold they have consistently fallen in price. Lets re-cap. Here’s the Dow Jones Industrial Average:

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The Great Gold Squeeze

So what’s next for gold? The weekend is over, and the week is about to begin — and that means gold, equities and debt trading in Asia will shortly be under way. Gold has been in a meteoric move upwards, spurred to even greater heights by Hugo Chavez’s announcement that Venezuela would repatriate its gold holdings from foreign banks — specifically those in London and New York.

From Things That Make You Go Hmmm (an absolute must-read):

Chavez’s move this week could set in motion a chain of events whereby Central banks who store the bulk of their gold overseas in ‘safe’ locations scramble to repossess their country’s true ‘wealth’. If that happens,the most high-stakes game of musical chairs the world hasever seen will have begun.One would imagine that a country’s gold would be storedonshore in their own vaults rather than be entrusted to a foreign power – after all, if tensions were to rise between the two sovereigns, amongst the first casualties would be said gold.

In trading since Chavez’s announcement, gold has shot up further. Of course there are other reasons for gold to rise — fiat debasement, sovereign debt concerns, equity weakness, concerns with overall trading conditions. But — ever since Gordon Brown offloaded Britain’s gold reserves for less than $300 an ounce at the millennium — coinciding with the peak of the fiat bubble — gold has shot up in value over 500%, and finally central banks are shifting holdings back into gold — especially the central banks of developing nations like China, Brazil and Russia, whose gold holdings have shot up 900%:

But the real problem may be that the vast growth in paper gold trading has been built on the backs of a very, very small physical base. Will the paper house of cards come tumbling down if part of the physical base is removed and sent to Venezuela? From Zero Hedge:

What could well be a gamechanger is that according to an update from Bloomberg, Venezuela has gold with, you guessed it, JP Morgan, Barclays, and Bank Of Nova Scotia. As most know, JPM is one of the 5 vault banks. The fun begins if Chavez demands physical delivery of more than 10.6 tons of physical because as today’s CME update of metal depository statistics, JPM only has 338,303 ounces of registered gold in storage. Or roughly 10.6 tons. A modest deposit of this size would cause some serious white hair at JPM as the bank scrambles to find the replacement gold, which has already been pledged about 100 times across the various paper markets.Keep an eye on gold in the illiquid after hour market. The overdue scramble for delivery may be about to begin.

The real question is whether any such scramble would cause more panics, more scrambles — to get out of cash, treasuries and equities and into gold and silver bullion — causing a deeper and harsher crash. Current data suggests that this is unlikely — but the deep worries over sovereign liquidity, fiat debasement, and food and fuel scarcity suggest that a panicked scramble out of cash is not entirely out of the question. Here’s a fantasy re-enactment of one not-entirely-improbable scenario:

$2000 gold ain’t far away: