In the film “Wall Street” (Oliver Stone, director), Gordon Gekko claims: “It’s all about bucks, the rest is conversation.”
DOLLAR DEPRECIATION DANGERS
For many decades, the United States dollar has led the foreign exchange field as the key currency for global trade as well as financial reserves. Over that time span, the greenback’s predominance to a significant extent encouraged, sustained, and reflected widespread (although not unlimited) American and global faith in the wisdom and goodness of American cultural values and the persuasive and practical ability of the nation to be a (and sometimes the) critical guiding force in international affairs. Although the dollar obviously has had numerous extended periods of appreciation and depreciation since the free market currency dealing regime began in the early 1970s, the dollar’s crucial role in the increasingly intertwined global economic system has seldom been significantly questioned or challenged for over an extended period of time. For almost ten years, from its major bottom in July 2011 until April 2020, the overall trend of the dollar in general was bullish.
Therefore few gurus fear a significant depreciation in the US dollar from its relatively lofty April 2020 high. However, the probability of a noteworthy dollar slump is much greater than most believe.
An underlying factor promoting a dollar tumble is the gradually declining share of America as a percentage of world GDP. Also, both political parties, not just the current US Administration, and especially in the coronavirus era, probably want the dollar to weaken from its recent summit. The great majority of the country’s politicians preach their allegiance to a strong dollar, but they also endorse economic growth.
Two additional phenomena make the dollar particularly vulnerable nowadays. First, although many leading nations have increased their government debt burdens in recent years, America’s situation probably has worsened significantly more than most others in recent months. Moreover, America already faced widening federal budget deficits encouraged by the tax “reform” enacted at end 2017. Plus don’t overlook the ongoing ominous long run debt burden, looming from factors such as an aging population. How easily will America service its debt situation? And America’s corporate and individual indebtedness also is substantial.
Second, the intensity and breadth of America’s cultural divisions has increased in recent times, especially during the Trump era. American confidence in the nation’s overall direction has slumped in recent months. As US citizen faith in the country’s situation declines, so probably likewise will (or has) that of foreigners in regard to America.
Declining faith in American assets (and its cultural institutions and leadership) can inspire shifts away from such assets. American marketplaces will not be completely avoided given their importance, but players can diversify away from them to some extent. Not only Americans but also foreigners own massive sums of dollar-denominated assets (debt instruments, stock in public and private companies, real estate; dollar deposits). Such portfolio changes (especially given America’s slowly declining importance in the global economy) will tend to make the dollar feeble.
Suppose nations and corporations increasingly elect, whether for commercial or political reasons, to avoid using the dollar as the currency via which they transact business. That will injure the dollar.
A five percent fall in the “overall” dollar level from its April 2020 high may not make much difference in the near term for US stocks and debt securities. However, a roughly five percent dollar drop is a warning sign for them, and especially for stocks. All else equal, a weaker dollar tends to boost the nominal price of dollar-denominated assets such as stocks and commodities. But history shows that this relationship is not inevitable. Phenomena other than dollar depreciation influence US securities trends. Keep in view the considerations described above undermining the dollar, and thus the desire to hold dollar-denominated instruments.
Admittedly, strong American corporate earnings encourage buying (and holding) of US stocks. But the coronavirus situation and responses to it have devastated calendar 2020 earnings. Suppose that contrary to widespread hopes and predictions, calendar 2021 corporate earnings do not rebound significantly (sufficiently) from dismal 2020 depths. What if the prayed-for V-shaped economic recovery does not emerge? If corporate earnings remain relatively modest (or slide) going forward, and if the dollar continues to weaken from its April 2020 height, dollar depreciation probably will intertwine with an equity slump.
A sustained dollar tumble approaching ten percent (and especially a fall greater than ten percent) probably will help to push the S+P 500 and related stock prices quite a bit lower. Many equate strong (high; rising) United States stocks over the long run as a signal or proof of the triumphant progress of the American Dream’s economic, political, and social principles. Therefore a linked and sustained decline in both the dollar and American stocks probably would damage to some extent the persuasive rhetoric of the current version American Dream itself.
Even if US government debt yields in this scenario initially slump from around current low levels due to a renewed “flight to quality”, and even if the Federal Reserve and its central banking teammates maintain their quantitative easing and yield repression schemes, inflationary forces (encouraged by money printing; see the huge increase in America’s money supply) and heated demand for credit eventually can push government (and corporate) interest rates upward. On the US interest rate front, suppose foreigners become smaller buyers, or even net sellers, of US Treasury securities. Such overseas action would not be an endorsement of America. Due to yield repression, UST real returns currently are negative.
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Dollar Depreciation and the American Dream (8-11-20)