Fed Jeopardizes Dollar as it Neglects its Mandate

By: Axel Merk | Tue, Mar 27, 2007
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The U.S. dollar collapsed to two-year lows against the euro as the Federal Reserve (Fed) takes its focus away from fighting inflation. The Fed has a dual mandate: price stability as well as full employment. With unemployment hovering near historic lows, why does the Fed neglect its mandate to fight inflation, thereby jeopardizing the dollar?

Inflation has been creeping up throughout the economy, now showing up even in the "core inflation" statistics the Fed pays particular attention to. At the same time, the signs of an economic slowdown become ever more apparent. Fighting a slowing economy versus fighting rising inflation require diametrically opposed monetary policies. Given the low unemployment rate, rather serious reasons must exist for the Fed to deviate from its mandate to fight inflation. It is the Fed's role to take away the punchbowl when excesses are created in the economy. Over the past decade, the Fed has lost focus of its mission, blinded by misunderstood dynamics introduced by the internet and globalization. Let us examine why the Fed is shifting its focus to growth.

For the Fed to shift its focus away from fighting inflation, it must either believe inflation is not a threat; or it must think that the risks posed by a slowdown outweigh the risks posed by inflation. As to the former, the Fed clearly states that "the Committee's predominant policy concern remains the risk that inflation will fail to moderate as expected." That statement alone would require the Fed to tighten monetary policy further as a pre-emptive insurance to fight inflation. This means the Fed is clearly concerned that the risks of a slowdown outweigh the risks posed by inflation.

But why would a slowdown be something the Fed should be concerned about? The only reason the Fed would try to prevent an economic slowdown is if it were concerned it could spiral out of control. And that's the core of the matter: in our assessment, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is concerned we could enter a deflationary spiral akin to what Japan experienced. How could such a deflationary spiral come about? You start with a credit bubble, with a consumer loaded up to their teeth with debt. In a credit crunch, the consumer would be forced to reign in his or her spending to service the debt; given that about 70% of the U.S. economy is comprised of consumer spending, we are talking about a severe recession or possibly a depression to force consumers to become savers rather than spenders.

Why would such a credit crunch come about? A credit crunch follows a credit bubble; the Fed and the Administration contributed to the creation of a credit bubble through excessively accommodating monetary and fiscal policies (low interest rates and low taxes). The environment lead to consumers taking on excessive credit; the money that was created has helped push up the prices of everything that we cannot import from Asia, from home prices to the cost of education, healthcare and local craftsmen. Up until a little over a year ago, the preferred source of money creation by consumers was to extract equity out of rising home values. Over the past year, record low volatility in most asset classes encouraged speculators to increase their leverage, thereby further increasing money supply. Suddenly, volatility is back to the markets, just as the weakest link of the housing sector, the "sub-prime" market, is breaking down. Note that the volatility of recent weeks is closer to normal, not the quiet markets of 2006. If this volatility persists, or if the fallout from the housing market spreads, we may be in for a serious credit crunch. Those who hope that the trouble in the mortgage sector is contained to the "sub-prime" end of the market are likely to be ill prepared for what may lie ahead. Aggressive lending practices that have lasted years are threatening housing prices nationwide, including those neighborhoods that are "different" because they only have affluent homeowners. A home price correction of 5% is not the hallmark of the bottom of a burst bubble, even if politicians are already calling for the rescue of those irresponsible homebuyers who bought homes they never should have afforded. Where were these politicians when these risky loans were sold? They tacitly endorsed the lending practices because home prices were rising, benefiting "everyone", except those who had to take on even greater debt to buy a home.

In numerous speeches in recent weeks, the Fed has been trying to convince the markets that it is just normal for inflation to peak after the economy peaks. The problem, of course, is if inflation does not abate as the economy slows down, i.e. if we enter a 1970s period of stagflation. We believe that fighting a credit contraction induced by market forces through stimulative policies will lead us to such a stagflationary environment; the Fed seems to hope that the forces of globalization will keep inflation statistics at bay. The Fed's "increased transparency" is nothing but increased expectations management. The Fed's role is not to manage expectations, but to manage fundamentals; the mere fact that expectations are ever more important shows that something is wrong with the fundamentals.

For further analysis why the Fed is concerned about growth, please also see our more detailed discussion of the potential fallout from credit derivatives; as well as our discussion of how the Fed has lost control of money supply.

The Fed is scared about what may lie ahead, and as a result is fighting the risk of a credit and liquidity crunch. We are afraid that printing money when market forces suggest a recession is overdue may have dire consequences. The rise of gold and the fall of the dollar are issuing strong warning signals that the Fed is veering into uncharted territory, a territory that would be labeled off limits if it were on a ski slope. The slippery slope entered may cause havoc in asset prices ranging from equities to fixed income to real estate. When money supply is increased, this money will flow somewhere; we are afraid that sooner rather than later, it will foremost push up inflation. The Fed may think that it knows how to fight inflation should it become a serious issue; but the further we press on with growth at any cost, the cost of correcting the course becomes ever greater.

Investors interested in taking some chips off the table to prepare for potential turbulence in the financial markets may want to evaluate whether gold or a basket of hard currencies are suitable ways to add diversification to their portfolios. We manage the Merk Hard Currency Fund, a fund that seeks to profit from a potential decline in the dollar. To learn more about the Fund, or to subscribe to our free newsletter, please visit www.merkfund.com.

 


 

Axel Merk

Author: Axel Merk

Axel Merk
President and CIO of Merk Investments, Manager of the Merk Funds,
www.merkfunds.com

Axel Merk

Axel Merk wrote the book on Sustainable Wealth; peek inside or order your copy today.

Axel Merk, President & CIO of Merk Investments, LLC, is an expert on hard money, macro trends and international investing. He is considered an authority on currencies.

The Merk Absolute Return Currency Fund seeks to generate positive absolute returns by investing in currencies. The Fund is a pure-play on currencies, aiming to profit regardless of the direction of the U.S. dollar or traditional asset classes.

The Merk Asian Currency Fund seeks to profit from a rise in Asian currencies versus the U.S. dollar. The Fund typically invests in a basket of Asian currencies that may include, but are not limited to, the currencies of China, Hong Kong, Japan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand.

The Merk Hard Currency Fund seeks to profit from a rise in hard currencies versus the U.S. dollar. Hard currencies are currencies backed by sound monetary policy; sound monetary policy focuses on price stability.

The Funds may be appropriate for you if you are pursuing a long-term goal with a currency component to your portfolio; are willing to tolerate the risks associated with investments in foreign currencies; or are looking for a way to potentially mitigate downside risk in or profit from a secular bear market. For more information on the Funds and to download a prospectus, please visit www.merkfunds.com.

Investors should consider the investment objectives, risks and charges and expenses of the Merk Funds carefully before investing. This and other information is in the prospectus, a copy of which may be obtained by visiting the Funds' website at www.merkfunds.com or calling 866-MERK FUND. Please read the prospectus carefully before you invest.

The Funds primarily invest in foreign currencies and as such, changes in currency exchange rates will affect the value of what the Funds own and the price of the Funds' shares. Investing in foreign instruments bears a greater risk than investing in domestic instruments for reasons such as volatility of currency exchange rates and, in some cases, limited geographic focus, political and economic instability, and relatively illiquid markets. The Funds are subject to interest rate risk which is the risk that debt securities in the Funds' portfolio will decline in value because of increases in market interest rates. The Funds may also invest in derivative securities which can be volatile and involve various types and degrees of risk. As a non-diversified fund, the Merk Hard Currency Fund will be subject to more investment risk and potential for volatility than a diversified fund because its portfolio may, at times, focus on a limited number of issuers. For a more complete discussion of these and other Fund risks please refer to the Funds' prospectuses.

This report was prepared by Merk Investments LLC, and reflects the current opinion of the authors. It is based upon sources and data believed to be accurate and reliable. Merk Investments LLC makes no representation regarding the advisability of investing in the products herein. Opinions and forward-looking statements expressed are subject to change without notice. This information does not constitute investment advice and is not intended as an endorsement of any specific investment. The information contained herein is general in nature and is provided solely for educational and informational purposes. The information provided does not constitute legal, financial or tax advice. You should obtain advice specific to your circumstances from your own legal, financial and tax advisors. As with any investment, past performance is no guarantee of future performance.

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