Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Quantitative Easing Means Foreigners Will Dump Treasuries

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.

Stocks and gold rallied strongly yesterday on the news that Japan is doing more quantitative easing and remarks from Fed Chair Ben Bernanke that more quantitative easing (also known as money printing) would be good for the U.S. economy. The major, and possibly disastrous, downside risks were not mentioned in mainstream media reports.

Quantitative easing has been tried many times before in Japan. It has failed to produce any lasting results, which is why it needs to be done again. The Fed has already engaged in quantitative easing during the Credit Crisis (frequently referred to as QE1) and is also doing it again because it didn't have any lasting results. Moreover, it isn't clear that any positive results took place at all because of QE1. The Fed claims it was a great success, but hasn't offered any proof to support its contention. There is certainly proof that it didn't work. Exhibit one is the much higher unemployment rate that we currently have. Just the need to do quantitative easing again is in and of itself proof that this was a failed policy.

While the advantages of quantitative easing are dubious, the risks can be horrendous. The biggest danger is for a country with a massive debt held outside that country (this describes the United States, but not Japan) Printing money is inflationary. It devalues the currency of the country doing it. The trade-weighted dollar did indeed have a big sell off on the news. Inflation-sensitive gold hit another all-time high. Quantitative easing will encourage large foreign holders to sell U.S. debt and to not make purchases in the future, except for TIPS (treasury inflation protected securities). Even TIPS will ultimately be shunned because they reflect the understated official U.S. government inflation rate. Without this source of foreign capital, the U.S. cannot fund its budget deficit or its trade deficit. This would send the economy into a severe contraction. The only way to avoid that would be to print even more money...and then more money ....and then more money. Without the money printing, the U.S. economy would enter a severe depression. With money printing, the risk is hyperinflation.

The biggest foreign holders of U.S. treasuries are China, Japan, the UK, the Oil Exporters, Brazil, the Caribbean Banking Centers (off-shore money havens used to hide the parties involved in financial transactions), Hong Kong, Russia, Taiwan, Switzerland and Canada. Why would these countries continue holding U.S. government bonds if they know they are going to be paid back in devalued currency? Why will these countries want to buy more bonds in the future? According to TIC (Treasury International Capital) data, China held $939.9 billion in U.S. treasuries in July 2009. In July 2010, it held only $846.7 billion. It is also known that China has been selling long-dated paper and moving into the short end of the yield curve. Other countries would want to do the same in response to quantitative easing. This may be why yields on the two-year note keep hitting all-time lows.

The impact of the first round of U.S. quantitative easing shows up even more clearly in the amount of treasuries held by the Fed. At the end of the first quarter, the Fed held $5.259 trillion in U.S. government bonds - more than five times the amount of China, the largest foreign holder. The nightmare scenario of the U.S. having to print money to buy its own government bonds because it can no longer borrow enough money from foreign sources to fund its government operations has clearly already taken place. That the Fed is now doing more quantitative easing indicates a self reinforcing inflationary cycle is underway. Investors should act accordingly.

Disclosure: No positions.

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer, New York Investing meetup

This posting is editorial opinion. There is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.


Anonymous said...

I think this confirms the treasury movement pretty well:
Ratio of 10 year price to 2 year price

Anonymous said...

Oops. They killed my link, try this:
Ratio of 10 year price to 2 year price


The reserve currency the dollar will not exsist in ten years.