ZIRP Everlasting

Some things never change.  Apparently, the interest rate for Federal funds is one of them.

To the surprise of no one – except the “experts” and journalists who have been writing about an anticipated rate increase – the Federal Reserve Board voted last week to keep interest rates flatlined at about zero, which is where they’ve been since 2008.

The Fed may not have raised interest rates, but it at least raised interest this time. The International Business Times called it, “one of the most widely anticipated Federal Reserve decisions in decades.”

Really?  Why was this meeting any different from previous Fed meetings where interest rates remained unchanged?  Because the media-academic-pundit intelligentsia decided that it was time to increase rates.Yellen

In a Wall Street Journal poll of economists in August, 82% of economists thought the Fed would raise rates in September.  The week before the Fed met, 46% picked September as the most likely time for the Fed’s rate hike, 9.5% said the Fed would wait until October and 35% predicted that the Fed would wait until December.  Just 9.5% predicted the Fed would wait until 2016 to raise rates.

The economists polled don’t have seats on the Federal Open Market Committee, but everyone assumes they must know something.

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Correct Yourself

Last week was a tough week for investors, given that the market dropped for six consecutive days. It was an even tougher week for financial advisors and investment managers who have been advising clients to keep a heavy allocation of stocks in their portfolios.

Advisors who are telling their clients to invest a greater percentage of their portfolios into stocks should be able to answer clients’ questions about why they are so optimistic that stock prices will continue to increase.Exp_2013_11_21_0

Investors, likewise, should ask why they are following that advice.  Investors need to be accountable for their future.  If their advisors are wrong, they will pay the price, not their advisors.

Answer These Questions

Given the state of the world economy – and stock markets throughout the world – many questions need to be answered.  Here are some of them:

Where is future growth going to come from? Don’t look to China, which may claim to be growing at 7% this year, but few believe it. Don’t look to the U.S., where baby boomers are retiring and millions of people in all age groups have stopped looking for work.

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China’s Fix Could Break Things

Imagine if free markets were allowed to be free.

Of course, in today’s world, they’re not.  Central bankers and government agencies have taken control.  Not knowing what to do with it hasn’t stopped them. 

China is the latest case in point.  We recently suggested that investors worry about China, not about Greece, although for a tiny country Greece gives everyone plenty to worry about.  But China should be the center of everyone’s attention, given its attempt to fix its falling stock market and boost imports by devaluing the yuan.China

While it’s impossible to guess the intentions of China’s rulers – and they’re not about to share them – the 1.9% devaluation announced last week smacks of desperation.  China’s stock market has been swooning this summer and its exports are down by 8.3% (much larger than the expected 1.5% decrease), which is not good for future growth.

In addition, The Wall Street Journal noted, “Pockets of manufacturing have been especially hard hit, as reflected in sluggish electricity use and falling rail cargo. Especially scary is the prospect of deflation; producer prices were down 5.4% from a year ago.”

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Swiss Diss

“It is said that the Swiss love only money … this is not true. They also love gold.”                                                                                                                          Anonymous

 The last time we checked, Switzerland was still part of Europe.

Then again, Switzerland has long been different from its European brethren.  Switzerland is historically an observer, not a participant.  Neutrality gives the country points for ethics among the peace-loving folk – although it didn’t stop the Swiss from dealing with the Nazis during World War II. Swiss Franc

Switzerland is also “the vault of the world.”  It’s where money and wealth are omnipresent, but never talked about.  “Swiss” and “bank” go together like “Swiss” and “watch.”

But there’s a big difference between the Swiss National Bank and the European Central Bank.  While the ECB is likely to announce a quantitative easing program to fight deflation next week, Switzerland this week strengthened its currency with a surprise announcement that it was removing its cap on the value of the Swiss franc.

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It’s Only Money

“Money often costs too much.”                                                                               Ralph Waldo Emerson

It really does all come down to money.

Money decides the outcome of wars and elections.  It ensures that we are properly fed and clothed.  It buys us an education and pays for all of our material needs.  And it may not be able to buy happiness, but it does have a dramatic impact on that vague thing that’s often referred to as “quality of life.”

All of us, if we’re being honest, would rather have more of it than less of it.

But the value of money is variable.  The currency of one country continuously fluctuates in value relative to the currency of every other country – and those fluctuations can have a dramatic economic impact.

A Stronger Dollar

You’d think countries would be striving to make their currencies stronger, but in recent years, we’ve had “currency wars” as competing countries have tried to weaken their currencies to increase demand for their imported goods.

DollarThe United States has criticized China for its currency manipulation, but in the meantime, the Federal Reserve Board’s easy money policies have deliberately weakened the dollar.

Now, though, as other countries’ currencies have become weaker, the dollar has strengthened.  In fact, the dollar reached a four-year high this week against a basket of major currencies, as The Wall Street Journalreported, “amid mounting expectations the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates next year while its counterparts in Europe and Japan consider further measures to raise inflation and spur growth.”

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The Dollar Is In Danger

It’s a sign of America’s strength and its position as leader of the free world that the dollar is the world’s reserve currency.

Just as English is the closest we’ve come to an internationally accepted language, the dollar is a common denominator, held in reserve by governments and institutions around the world, and used in international transactions.

But that may be changing.  And if it does, we can blame ourselves – or, more specifically, the Federal Reserve Board.Reserve Currency Status

Why should we care?  With reserve currency status, the U.S. can:

  • Purchase imports and borrow internationally at a lower rate than other nations, because we don’t need to exchange our currency to do so.  The lower rate saves America about $100 billion a year.
  • Avoid a potential currency crisis.  When countries don’t have enough foreign exchange reserves to maintain the country’s fixed exchange rate, they face a currency crisis.  The result is typically attacks by speculators in the foreign exchange market and the devaluation of the currency.
  • Run higher trade deficits with less economic impact.
  • Print money to pay off its debts.
  • Preserve America’s status as a world leader.  The dollar’s reserve currency status is a symbol of American strength.  A loss of that role would be a sign of the country’s diminished status.

So if the dollar loses its reserve currency status, America is in trouble.  Government debt will rise, the cost of imports will be higher and the economy will suffer.

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