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  • The Renminbi: Soon to Be a Reserve Currency?

    I get the question all the time: when will the Chinese renminbi (RMB) replace the US dollar as the major world reserve currency? The assumption behind such questions is almost always that the coming crisis in US entitlement programs will force the Fed to monetize even more debt, thereby killing the dollar. Or some derivative line of that thought. Contrary to the thinking of fretful dollar skeptics, my firm belief is that the US dollar is going to become even stronger and will at some point actually deserve to be the reserve currency of choice rather than merely the prettiest girl in the ugly contest – the last currency standing, so to speak.

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  • There’s a Slow Train coming

    The question before the jury is a simple one, but the answer is complex. Is the US in a 'V' shaped recovery? Are we returning to the old normal? A great deal hinges on the answer, and this week we look at some of the evidence before us.

    But first, a follow-up thought to last week's letter. I wrote about why countries can reduce their private debt, reduce their public debt or run a trade deficit, but not all three at the same time. If a country wants to see its government run a fiscal surplus (or small deficit) and at the same time its private citizens want to reduce their leverage (common desires throughout the developed world), it must run a trade surplus. That's a simple accounting statement.

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  • The Threat to Muddle Through

    If the Chinese allowed the renminbi to rise, would that make the USA better off? That is the contention of a cabal of critics from Senators to Nobel laureates. Paul Krugman wants to see a 25% tariff on Chinese goods. Today we examine that idea, and look at the real problems that we face. If only it were so easy. The numbers just don't add up. The fault, dear Brutus...

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  • The Paradox of Deficits

    There is something that is bumping around in my worry closet. The bond market is not behaving as if there is deflation in our future, and the dollar is getting weaker. Unemployment keeps rising, but most of all, the US government deficit looks to be spinning out of control. This week we look at all of this and take a tour around the world to see what is happening. There is a lot of interesting material to cover.

    As of this week, total US debt is $11.3 trillion and rising rapidly. The Obama Administration projects that to rise another $1.85 trillion in 2009 (13% of GDP) and yet another $1.4 trillion in 2010. The Congressional Budget Office projects almost $10 trillion in additional debt from 2010 through 2019. Just last January the 2009 deficit was estimated at "only" $1.2 trillion. Things have gone downhill fast.

    But there is reason to be concerned about those estimates, too. The CBO assumes a rather robust recovery in 2010, with growth springing back to 3.8% and then up to 4.5% in 2011. Interestingly, they project unemployment of 8.8% for this year (we are already at 8.9% and rising every month) and that it will rise to 9% next year. It will be a strange recovery indeed where the economy is roaring along at 4% and unemployment isn't falling. (You can see their spreadsheets and all the details if you take your blood pressure medicine first, at www.cbo.gov.)...
  • Earnings and Mr. Bear

    "The stock market is a voting machine in the short run and a weighing machine in the long run." - Benjamin Graham -- The voting part of the equation is tempered by fear and greed. It is largely emotional, although investors like to think of themselves as rational players. That emotion is driven by views of the future. If you can be confident of large and growing returns, you are less likely to be swayed by the erratic movements of a stock. But as confidence wanes? Well, that is the stuff that bear markets are made of. Because at the end of the day, what the market weighs is earnings and the ability of a company to reliably produce them. This week we look at what earnings are likely to be over the next year and see if we can discern what that suggests for the markets. We also take a look at the energy markets, the possibility of a further drop in the price of oil, and muse on what a sane energy policy for the world would look like. There is a lot to cover, but it should make for an interesting letter....
  • Do Trade Deficits Matter? part 2?

    Introduction This week we look at the links between the US trade deficit, the low savings rate in the US, home prices, and interest rates, all in an effort to answer the question: "Do trade deficits matter?" I think I will offer a few practical...
  • Smoot-Hawley Lives

    Introduction This week we look into my worry closet and ponder whether the Dubai port debacle is a one-off thing or does it signal a rise in protectionism. The recent polls suggest I will upset about 90% of you, but I look at the deal from the very negative...
  • Do Trade Deficits Matter?

    Introduction "I don't know whether change will come with a bang or a whimper, whether sooner or later. But as things stand now, it is more likely than not that it will be a financial crisis rather than a policy foresight that will force change...
  • The Trade Deficit End-Game

    Introduction This week we finish with our series on the US trade deficit. When will we see a real problem? What are the likely results from a balancing of global trade? Where are the investment opportunities, and where are the pitfalls? It should make...
  • Why Trade Deficits Matter

    Introduction We have been looking at the US trade deficit and the global trade imbalance for the past two weeks. It is currently an unsustainable trend, and thus will stop at some point. The questions are when and how? We will conclude this series today...
  • The Problem of the Endgame

    Introduction Last week we looked at my 2005 Forecast. This week, we ponder the far more interesting question of where I could (or will be!) be wrong and why and what would be the consequences. This week's topic came about as I was talking on Tuesday...
  • Forecast 2005: The See-Saw Economy

    Introduction Once again it's time for me to demonstrate the foolhardy part of my nature by putting to electronic pen my forecast for 2005. I spend more research time on this one letter than on any four or five combined, simply reading hundreds of...
  • Things That Go Bump in My Worry Closet

    Introduction From ghoulies and ghosties And long-leggedy beasties And things that go bump in the night, Good Lord, deliver us! --Old Scottish Prayer Coming back from Canada this morning, where the Canadian dollar is on a breath-taking rise, and reading...
  • Premise #3: A Falling Dollar

    Premise #3: A Falling Dollar In March of 2002, I wrote an e-letter entitled "King Dollar and the Guillotine," which as the title suggests was a quite negative view of the future prospects for the dollar. Two weeks earlier, I had written a bullish...