Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Dollar, the Fed, Housing and the Economy

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. We have coined this term to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government, which involve unprecedented money printing. This is the official blog of the New York Investing meetup.

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The U.S. dollar was in free-fall last night in Asia. The trade-weighted basket fell as low as 75.21 (another new yearly low), well below the significant support level of 76.00 and approaching the next weak support level of 74.00. Some form of intervention took place after European markets opened and the dollar was saved from oblivion (at least for now) and shot straight up. Gold, and silver to an even greater extent, declined sharply on the dollar reversal. The pattern of gold and silver being strong in Asian trading and weakest in the U.S., which has been going on for several days now, continues. Oil remains strong this morning because unlike gold and silver it is difficult to manipulate on a daily basis.

The high price of oil has inflationary implications that will soon be manifested. Expect CPI figures to start jumping up significantly starting at the end of the year. Oil fell as low as $33 last December and it is going to be way above that level this year. Energy prices are the most important swing factor in the inflation numbers. Long-term bond prices are likely to rise on the news. The Fed will still keep short-term rates at zero however and Ben Bernanke will have an increasingly pained look on his face. The Fed released the minutes of its September meeting yesterday and little noticed was a statement that it was reserving the option of continuing any of its current programs. The most important one of those for bond investors is the money printing being used to buy U.S. treasuries. This is supposed to expire on October 31st. It's not likely to happen, at least not for long. The Fed has concentrated these purchases in the 7 to 10 year range of the yield curve, which keeps interest rates for mortgages and other loans down. Foreign governments have moved their buying to even shorter durations. The long end of the curve between 20 and 30 years is being left unsupported. Double short long bond ETF TBT should benefit from this situation.

How can we be so sure that the Fed's money printing extravaganza will continue? Housing, the ground zero of the Credit Crisis, remains troubled for one. Almost one million U.S. properties were involved at some stage of the foreclosure process in the third quarter (the summer). This number has been reached even though there are a number of federal programs to prevent foreclosure (and there have been a number of state programs that have put a moratorium on foreclosures). Anecdotal reports indicate that there are mortgages that haven't been paid for 18 months or more that still haven't entered even the first stage of foreclosure, let alone repossession. Banks don't want these properties on their books and the federal programs (plus a lot of bailout money) lets the banks avoid taking them back. A new wave of mortgage resets to higher interest rates is also just beginning and will last through next year. It will only add to the problem.

The second motivation for more Fed money printing will be the consumer economy. Constant stimulus is needed to keep it going. Retail sales figures were down 1.5% in September and revised down to 2.2% from 2.7% in August. The Cash for Clunkers program caused the August spike, but once it was over retail sales went negative again. Retail sales figures are not adjusted for inflation and this accounts for much of any 'growth' outside of stimulus programs that is being seen in this area. While almost every mainstream U.S. economists thinks the recession is over, they will all admit that unemployment is likely to get worse for at least another 6 months if not a year or longer. Consumer credit is also dropping sharply. So how is the consumer going to spend? More stimulus from the government will be the answer. Don't expect the printing press to be mothballed any time in the near future.

NEXT: Bank Earnings Reveal True State of Economy

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer,New York Investing meetup

This posting is editorial opinion. Like all other postings for this blog, there is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

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