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Is The Dollar Standard Slipping Out Of Control?

Is The Dollar Standard Slipping Out Of Control?

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Is The Dollar Standard Slipping Out Of Control? Tyler Durden Mon, 08/03/2020 - 23:25

Authored by Alastair Crooke via The Strategic Culture Foundation,

As commentators focus on the hospitalisations of two Gulf monarchs, and permutate likely succession issues, they may miss the wood for the succession trees: Of course, the death of either the Emir of Kuwait (91 years old) or King Salman of Saudi Arabia (84 years old) is a serious political matter. King Salman’s particularly has the potential to upturn the region (or not).

Yet Gulf stability today rests less on who succeeds, but rather on tectonic shifts in geo-finance and politics that are just becoming visible. Time to move on from stale ruminations about who’s ‘up and coming’, and who’s ‘down and out’ in these dysfunctional families.

The stark fact is that Gulf stability rests on selling enough energy to buy-off internal discontents, and to pay for supersized surveillance and security set-ups.

For the moment, times are hard, but the States’ financial ‘cushions’ are just about holding-up (albeit only for the big three: Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi and Qatar). For others the situation is dire. The question is, will this present status quo persist? This is where the warnings of shifts in certain global tectonic plates becomes salient.

The Kuwaiti succession struggle is emblematic of the Gulf rift: One candidate for Emir, (the brother), stands with Saudi Arabia and its Wahhabi-led ‘war’ on Sunni Islamists (the Muslim Brotherhood). Whereas the other, (the eldest son), is actively backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar and Turkey. Thus, Kuwait sits on firmly on the Gulf abyss – a region with significant, but disempowered Shi’a minorities, and a Sunni camp divided and ‘at war’ with itself over support for the Muslim Brotherhood; or what is (politely called) ‘autocratic secular stability’.

Interesting though this is, is this really still so relevant?

The Gulf, perhaps more significantly, is held hostage to two huge financial bubbles. The real risk to these States may prove to come from these bubbles, which are the very devil to prick-down into any gentle, expelling of gas. They are sustained by mass psychology – which can pivot on a dime – and usually end catastrophically in a market ‘tantrum’, or a ‘bust’ – and with consequent risk of depression, should Central Banks ever try to lift the foot off the monetary accelerator.

The U.S. ubiquitous ‘asset bubble’ is famous. Central Bankers have been worrying about it for years. And the Fed is throwing money at it – with abandon – to keep it from popping. But as indicated earlier, such bubbles are highly vulnerable to psychology – and that may be turning, as the celebrated V-shaped, expected economic recovery recedes into the virus-induced distance. But for now, investors believe that the Fed daren’t let it implode – that the Fed has absolutely no option but go on throwing more and more money at it (at least until November elections … & then what?).

Less visible is that other vast ‘asset bubble’: The Chinese domestic property market. With its closed capital account, China has a huge sum (some $40 trillion) sloshing around in collective bank accounts. That money can’t go abroad (at least legally), so it rotates around between three asset markets: apartments, stocks, and commodities somewhat whimsically. But investing in apartments is absolutely king! 96% of urban Chinese own more than one: 75% of private wealth is represented by investments in condos – albeit with 21% standing empty in urban China, for lack of a tenant.

Long story, short, the Chinese massively chase property valuations. Indeed, as the WSJ has noted “the central problem in China is that buyers have figured out the government doesn’t appear to be willing to let the market fall. If home prices did drop significantly, it would wipe out most citizens’ primary source of wealth, and potentially trigger unrest”. Even during the pandemic – or, perhaps because of it as the Chinese piled-in – prices rose 4.9% in June, year on year. The total value of Chinese homes and developers’ inventory hit $52 trillion in 2019, according to Goldman Sachs; i.e. twice the size of the U.S. residential market, and outstripping even the entire U.S. bond market.

If it sounds just like America’s QE-inflated asset markets, that’s because it is. As things stand, both the Chinese residential and the U.S. equity bubbles are unstable. Which might fracture fist? Who knows … but bubbles are also vulnerable to pop on geo-political events (such as a U.S. naval landing on one of China’s disputed South Sea islands, to which China is promising, absolutely, a military response).

No one has any idea how Chinese officials can manage the property bubble, without destabilizing the broader economy. And even should the market stay strong, it creates headaches for policy makers, who have had to hold off on more aggressive economic stimulus this year – which some analysts say is needed, partly because of fears it will inflate housing further.

Ah … there it is: Out in plain view – the risk. The condo-trade has hijacked the entire Chinese economy, tying officials’ hands. This, at the moment when Trump’s trade war has turned into a new ideological cold war targeting the Chinese Communist Party. What if the Chinese economy, under further U.S. sanctions, slides further, or if Covid 19 resurges (as it is in Hong Kong)? Will then the housing market break, causing recession or depression? It is, after all, China and Asia that buy the bulk of Gulf energy: Demand shrinks, and price falls. The fate of the Gulf States’ economies – and stability – is tied to these mega-bubbles not popping.

Bubbles are one factor, but there are also signs of the tectonic plates drifting apart in a different way, but no less threatening.

Bankers Goldman Sachs sits at the very heart of the western financial system – and incidentally staffs much of Team Trump, as well as the Federal Reserve.

And Goldman wrote something this week that one might not expect from such a system stalwart: Its commodity strategist Jeffrey Currie, wrote that “real concerns around the longevity of the U.S. dollar as a reserve currency have started to emerge”.

What? Goldman says the dollar might lose its reserve currency status. Unthinkable? Well that would be the standard view. Dollar hegemony and sanctions have long been seen as Washington’s stranglehold on the world through which to preserve U.S. primacy. America’s ‘hidden war’, as it were. Trump clearly views the dollar as the bludgeon that can make America Great Again. Furthermore, as Trump and Mnuchin – and now Congress – have taken control of the Treasury arsenal, the roll-out of new sanctions bludgeoning has turned into a deluge.

But there has also been within certain U.S. circles, a contrarian view. Which is that the U.S. needs to ‘re-boot’ its economic model with a Tech-led, ‘supply-side’ miracle to end growth stagnation. Too much debt suffocates an economy, and populates it with zombie enterprises.

In 2014, Jared Bernstein, Obama’s former chief economist said that the U.S. Dollar must lose its reserve status, if such a re-boot were to be done. He explained why, in a New York Times op-ed:

“There are few truisms about the world economy, but for decades, one has been the role of the United States dollar as the world’s reserve currency. It’s a core principle of American economic policy. After all, who wouldn’t want their currency to be the one that foreign banks and governments want to hold in reserve?

“But new research reveals that what was once a privilege is now a burden, undermining job growth, pumping up budget and trade deficits and inflating financial bubbles. To get the American economy on track, the government needs to drop its commitment to maintaining the dollar’s reserve-currency status.”

In essence, this is the Davos Great Reset line. Christine Lagarde, in the same year, called too for a ‘reset’ (or re-boot) of monetary policy (in the face of “bubbles growing here and there) – and to deal with stagnant growth and unemployment. And this week, the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations issued a paper entitled: It is Time to Abandon Dollar Hegemony.

That, we repeat, is the globalist line. The CFR has been a progenitor of both the European and Davos projects. It is not Trump’s. He is fighting to keep America as the seat of western power, and not to accede that role to Merkel’s European project – or to China.

So why would Goldman Sachs say such a thing? Attend carefully to Goldman’s framing: It is not the Davos line.

Instead, Currie writes that the soaring disconnect between spiking gold price and a weakening dollar “is being driven by a potential shift in the U.S. Fed towards an inflationary bias, against a backdrop of rising geopolitical tensions, elevated U.S. domestic political and social uncertainty, and a growing second wave of covid-19 related infections”.

Translation:

It is about U.S. explosive debt accumulation, on account of the Coronavirus lockdown. In a world where there is already over $100 trillion in dollar-denominated debt, on which the U.S. cannot default; nor will it ever be repaid. It can therefore only be inflated away. That is to say the debt can only be managed through debasing the currency. (Debt jubilees are viewed as beyond the pale.)

That is to say, Goldman’s man says dollar debasement is firmly on the Fed agenda. And that means that “real concerns around the longevity of the U.S. dollar as a reserve currency, have started to emerge”.

It is a nuanced message: It hints that the monetary experiment, which began in 1971, is ending. Currie is telling U.S. that the U.S. is no longer able to manage an economy with this much debt – simply by printing new currency, and with its hands tied on other options. The debt situation already is unprecedented – and the pandemic is accelerating the process.

In short, things are starting to spin out of control, which is not the same as advocating a re-boot. And the debasement of money is inevitable. That’s why Currie points to the disconnect between the gold price (which usually governments like to repress), and a weakening dollar. If it is out of the Fed’s control, it is ultimately (post-November) out of Trump’s hands, too.

Should confidence in the dollar begin to evaporate, all fiat currencies will sink in tandem – as G20 Central Banks are bound by the same policies as the U.S.. China’s situation is complicated. It would in one way be harmed by dollar debasement, but in another way, a general debasement of fiat currency would offer China and Russia the crisis (i.e. the opportunity), to escape the dollar’s knee pressed onto their throats.

And for Gulf States? The slump in oil prices this year already has prompted some investors to bet against Gulf nations’ currencies, putting longstanding currency pegs with the dollar under pressure. GCC states have kept their currencies glued to the dollar since the 1970s, but low oil demand, combined with dollar weakness would exacerbate the threat to Gulf ‘pegs’, as their trade deficits blow out. Were a peg to break, it is not clear there would be any obvious floor to that currency, in present circumstances.

Against such a backdrop, the royal successions underway in Gulf States might perhaps be regarded a sideshow.

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Coronavirus dashboard for October 5: an autumn lull as COVID-19 evolves towards seasonal endemicity

  – by New Deal democratBack in August I highlighted some epidemiological work by Trevor Bedford about what endemic COVID is likely to look like, based…

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 - by New Deal democrat

Back in August I highlighted some epidemiological work by Trevor Bedford about what endemic COVID is likely to look like, based on the rate of mutations and the period of time that previous infection makes a recovered person resistant to re-infection. Here’s his graph:




He indicated that it “illustrate[s] a scenario where we end up in a regime of year-round variant-driven circulation with more circulation in the winter than summer, but not flu-like winter seasons and summer troughs.”

In other words, we could expect higher caseloads during regular seasonal waves, but unlike influenza, the virus would never entirely recede into the background during the “off” seasons.

That is what we are seeing so far this autumn.

Confirmed cases have continued to decline, presently just under 45,000/day, a little under 1/3rd of their recent summer peak in mid-June. Deaths have been hovering between 400 and 450/day, about in the middle of their 350-550 range since the beginning of this past spring:



The longer-term graph of each since the beginning of the pandemic shows that, at their present level cases are at their lowest point since summer 2020, with the exception of a brief period during September 2020, the May-July lull in 2021, and the springtime lull this year. Deaths since spring remain lower than at any point except the May-July lull of 2021:



Because so many cases are asymptomatic, or people confirm their cases via home testing but do not get confirmation by “official” tests, we know that the confirmed cases indicated above are lower than the “real” number. For that, here is the long-term look from Biobot, which measures COVID concentrations in wastewater:



The likelihood is that there are about 200,000 “actual” new cases each day at present. But even so, this level is below any time since Delta first hit in summer 2021, with the exception of last autumn and this spring’s lulls.

Hospitalizations show a similar pattern. They are currently down 50% since their summer peak, at about 25,000/day:



This is also below any point in the pandemic except for briefly during September 2020, the May-July 2021 low, and this past spring’s lull.

The CDC’s most recent update of variants shows that BA.5 is still dominant, causing about 81% of cases, while more recent offshoots of BA.2, BA.4, and BA.5 are causing the rest. BA’s share is down from 89% in late August:



But this does not mean that the other variants are surging, because cases have declined from roughly 90,000 to 45,000 during that time. Here’s how the math works out:

89% of 90k=80k (remaining variants cause 10k cases)
81% of 45k=36k (remaining variants cause 9k cases)

The batch of new variants have been dubbed the “Pentagon” by epidmiologist JP Weiland, and have caused a sharp increase in cases in several countries in Europe and elsewhere. Here’s what she thinks that means for the US:


But even she is not sure that any wave generated by the new variants will exceed summer’s BA.5 peak, let alone approach last winter’s horrible wave:



In summary, we have having an autumn lull as predicted by the seasonal model. There will probably be a winter wave, but the size of that wave is completely unknown, primarily due to the fact that probably 90%+ of the population has been vaccinated and/or previously infected, giving rise to at least some level of resistance - a disease on its way to seasonal endemicity.

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Government

JOLTs jolted: Did the Fed break the labour market?

In the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) August release of the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) report, the number of job openings, a measure…

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In the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) August release of the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) report, the number of job openings, a measure of demand for labour, fell to 10.1 million. This was short of market estimates of 11 million and lower than last month’s level of 11.2 million.

It also marked the fifth consecutive month of decreases in job openings this year, while the August unemployment rate had ticked higher to 3.7%, near a five-decade low.

In the latest numbers, the total job openings were the lowest reported since June 2021, while incredibly, the decline in vacancies of 1.1 million was the sharpest in two decades save for the extraordinary circumstances in April 2020. 

Healthcare services, other services and retail saw the deepest declines in job openings of 236,000, 183,000, and 143,000, respectively.

With total jobs in some of these sectors settling below pre-pandemic levels, the Fed’s push for higher borrowing costs may finally be restricting demand for workers in these areas.

The levels of hires, quits and layoffs (collectively known as separations) were little changed from July.

The quits rate (a percentage of total employment in the month), a proxy for confidence in the market was steady at 2.8%.

Source: US BLS

From a bird’s eye view, 1.7 openings were available for each unemployed person, cooling from 2.0 in the month prior but still above the historic average. 

The market still appears favourable for workers but seems to have begun showing signs of fatigue.

Ian Shepherdson, Economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics noted that it was too soon to suggest if a new trend had started to emerge, and said,

…this is the first official indicator to point unambiguously, if not necessarily reliably, to a clear slowing in labour demand.

Nick Bunker, Head of Economic Research at Indeed, also stated,

The heat of the labour market is slowly coming down to a slow boil as demand for hiring new workers fades.

Ironically, equities surged as investors pinned their hopes on weakness in headline jobs numbers being the sign of breakage the Fed needed to pull back on its tightening.

Kristen Bitterly, Citi Global Wealth’s head of North American investments added,

(In the past, in) 8 out of the 10 bear markets, we have seen bounces off the lows of 10%…and not just one but several, this is very common in this type of environment.

The worst may be yet to come

As for the health of the economy, after much seesawing in its projections, which swung between 0.3% as recently as September 27 and as high as 2.7% just a couple of weeks earlier, the Atlanta Fed GDPNow estimate was finalized at a sharply rebounding 2.3% for Q3, earlier in the week.

Rod Von Lipsey, Managing Director, UBS Private Wealth Management was optimistic and stated,

…looking for a stronger fourth quarter, and traditionally, the fourth quarter is a good part of the year for stocks.

As I reported in a piece last week, a crucial consideration that has been brought up many a time is the unknown around policy lags.

Cathie Wood, Ark Invest CEO and CIO noted that the Fed has increased rates an incredible 13-fold in a span of just a few months, which is in stark contrast to the rate doubling engineered by Governor Volcker over the span of a decade.

Pedro da Costa, a veteran Fed reporter and previously a fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, emphasized that once the Fed tightens policy, there is no way to know when this may be fully transmitted to the economy, which could lie anywhere between 6 to 18 months.

The JOLTs report reflects August data while the Fed has continued to tighten. This raises the probability that the Fed may have already done too much, and the environment may be primed to send the jobs market into a tailspin.

Several recent indicators suggest that the labour market is getting ready for a significant deceleration.

For instance, new orders contracted aggressively to 47.1. Although still expansionary, ISM manufacturing data fell sharply to 50.9 global, factory employment plummeted to 48.7, global PMI receded into contractionary territory at 49.8, its lowest level since June 2020 while durable goods declined 0.2%.

Moreover, transpacific shipping rates, a leading indicator absolutely crashed, falling 75% Y-o-Y on weaker demand and overbought inventories.

Steven van Metre, a certified financial planner and frequent collaborator at Eurodollar University, argued

“…the next thing to go is the job market.“

A recent study by KPMG which collated opinions of over 400 CEOs and business leaders at top US companies, found that a startling 91% of respondents expect a recession within the next 12 months. Only 34% of these think that it would be “mild and short.”

More than half of the CEOs interviewed are looking to slash jobs and cut headcount.

Similarly, a report by Marcum LLP in collaboration with Hofstra University found that 90% of surveyed CEOs were fearful of a recession in the near future.

It also found that over a quarter of company heads had already begun layoffs or planned to do so in the next twelve months.

Simply put, American enterprises are not buying the Fed’s soft-landing plans.

A slew of mass layoffs amid overwhelming inventories and a weak consumer impulse will result in a rapid decline in price pressures, exacerbating the threat of too much tightening.

Upcoming data

On Friday, the markets will be focused on the BLS’s non-farm payrolls data. Economists anticipate a comparatively small addition of jobs, likely to be near 250,000, which would mark the smallest monthly increase this year.

In a world where interest rates are still rising, demand is giving way, the prevailing sentiment is weak and companies are burdened by excessive inventories, can job cuts be far behind?

The post JOLTs jolted: Did the Fed break the labour market? appeared first on Invezz.

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International

Trade Deficit decreased to $67.4 Billion in August

From the Department of Commerce reported:The U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis announced today that the goods and services deficit was $67.4 billion in August, down $3.1 billion from $70.5 billion in July, revised.August exp…

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From the Department of Commerce reported:
The U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis announced today that the goods and services deficit was $67.4 billion in August, down $3.1 billion from $70.5 billion in July, revised.

August exports were $258.9 billion, $0.7 billion less than July exports. August imports were $326.3 billion, $3.7 billion less than July imports.
emphasis added
Click on graph for larger image.

Exports increased and imports decreased in August.

Exports are up 20% year-over-year; imports are up 14% year-over-year.

Both imports and exports decreased sharply due to COVID-19 and have now bounced back.

The second graph shows the U.S. trade deficit, with and without petroleum.

U.S. Trade Deficit The blue line is the total deficit, and the black line is the petroleum deficit, and the red line is the trade deficit ex-petroleum products.

Note that net, imports and exports of petroleum products are close to zero.

The trade deficit with China increased to $37.4 billion in August, from $21.7 billion a year ago.

The trade deficit was slightly lower than the consensus forecast.

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