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QE2 and its Consequences (Part I)By Ron HeraJanuary 17, 2011©2011 Hera Research, LLC

The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) announced on November 3, 2010that it wouldpurchase longer-term Treasury securities at a pace of $75 billion dollars per month through theFederal Reserve’s Permanent Open Market Operations (POMO) facility by the end of the secondquarter 2011 and potentially beyond. The Quantitative Easing Two (“QE2”) program,championed by Ben Shalom Bernanke, Ph.D., Chairman of the US Federal Reserve, is expectedto total at least $600 billion and the program may total more than $600 billion, if Dr. Bernankeand the FOMC deem it to be necessary. Currently, QE2 is expected to continue until the end of

2011, i.e. up to $1.2 trillion, although there is ongoing policy debate within the Federal Reserveamidst growing fears that the policy may backfire.

Chart courtesy ofShadow Government Statistics

Monetary inflation is one result of QE2 because when the Federal Reserve buys US Treasuries itinjects newly created money into the financial system, which, in turn, reduces the value of the USdollar (due to the increase in the quantity of dollars). A lower US dollar could stimulate USexports but could have unintended consequences, such as creating excess liquidity that could leadto asset price bubbles in the US. Low interest rates are already fueling a US dollar carry tradethat seems likely to create asset price bubbles abroad. In 2010,borrowing in the US and

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investing abroad yielded significant returns, thus, there is a profitable carry trade in the world’sreserve currency, which has been called the mother of all carry trades by New York Universityeconomist Nouriel Roubini because of the US dollar’s increasingly tenuous status as the worldreserve currency.

Global Outcry Against QE2

The announcement of QE2 touched off an international firestorm of controversy. QE2 has beenwidely criticized by financial and political leaders representing US creditors, exporters andemerging economies. Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz has become an outspoken critic of QE2,warning that it poses a risk to emerging economies where asset price bubbles are alreadyapparent. European Central Bank (ECB) President Jean-Claude Trichet expressed the sameconcern. The growing consensus on the part of emerging economies, such as Brazil, India,China, Argentina, Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea, Peru and Indonesia, is that capital controls arenecessary to prevent excessive capital inflows, which can be highly inflationary. TheInternational Monetary Fund (IMF), which bailed out a number of smaller countries in 2008, hassupported capital controls since February 2010. The dilemma for exporters is that they must seekto control inflation, e.g., by raising interest rates, but must also debase their currencies to maintaintheir exports. The only other option is to institute capital controls. One of many critics, Brazil’sFinance Minister, Guido Mantega, warned that the US-led currency war “…is turning into a tradewar.”

The growing consensus is that inflation in Asia will damage Asian economies before Westerncountries, which are debasing their currencies, fully recoverfrom the recession that began in2007. The trade relationship of the US and China is in the eye of the storm and fears of a tradewar are growing. Debasing the US dollar reduces the value of China’s US Treasury holdingswhile China relies on exports to the US, totaling between $200 and $300 billion annually. Forexporters, QE2 is a doubly destructive policy since capital inflows are inflationary while exportsare reduced due to currency appreciation. The potential effects of a downturn in manufacturingresulting from falling exports, coincident with the bursting of an asset price bubble, is a formulafor disaster. As more countries begin to conduct international trade without using US dollars, the

world could be split into two camps. For example, talks are taking place between the US andJapan regarding the establishment of trans-Pacific free trade.

Interestingly, QE2 has the potential to “cash out” favored holders of US Treasuries in exchangefor US dollars at their current value, i.e., before the US dollar declines further. China, Russia andBrazil are already reducing their US Treasury holdingsand could be favored sellers of USTreasuries to the Federal Reserve (through its intermediaries). However, given the size of the USfederal deficit, the simplest explanation is that the Federal Reserve is simply funding the USgovernment.

Keeping the Wolfpack at Bay

While it may stimulate US exports and help to create conditions for renewed economic growth inthe US (rather than relying mainly on the stimulation of consumer spending), QE2 represents adebasem*nt of the US dollar and suggests that demand for US debt may be weakening. Thecurrent facts regarding the US economy do not justify the AAA rating of US sovereign debt. InFebruary 2010, Moody’s publicly warned that it might have to cut the rating on US governmentdebt. The warning was reiterated in December, while American politicians debated tax policy,and surfaced again in January. Until the US economy shows stronger growth, and until the USfederal government gets its budget deficit under control, confidence in US sovereign debt and inthe US dollar will continue to deteriorate.

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Chart courtesy ofStockCharts.com

Since the corrosive effects of expanding the money supply in excess of the rate of increase insustainable economic activity, i.e., inflation, could not so quickly have resulted from QE2, QE2seems to have damaged global confidence in the US dollarand in US Treasury debt. The Januarypullback in gold and silver showed that the sharp rise in prices after the announcement of QE2, inNovember 2010, was in part reactionary. Nonetheless, the strengthening of the US dollar can belargely attributed to the ongoing debt crisis in Europe and the ongoing bull market incommodities and precious metals points to a continuing influx of capital and to a reducedpreference for the US dollar and US Treasuries. Had it not been forthe revelation of Ireland’seconomic troubles along with those of other European countries, the US dollar would certainlyhave fallen further compared to the Euro towards the end of 2010. What is more important is thatthe Euro, the US dollar and the Japanese yen have the same fundamental problem in common,which is a combination of high debt levels and economic fundamentals that, in the best case, donot inspire confidence.

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Chart courtesy ofStockCharts.com

All other things being equal, if the QE2 program were terminated, the US dollar would certainlyrally and demand for US debt would certainly strengthen, lowering demand for commodities andprecious metals. The termination of QE2 or an announcement of its impending termination is apotential short term risk for investors. Conversely, as QE2 continues indefinitely, the currentcommodities bull market, which has been amplified by the weakening US dollar, will continueAnd precious metals prices, which are currently consolidating, will move higher.

The emerging pattern since the announcement of QE2 is bullish for commodities and preciousmetals. Episodic flights to safety have tended to cause the US dollar to rally, despite pooreconomic conditions in the US, i.e., in response to economic instability in countries such asDubai, Greece, Ireland or Spain. The pattern of US dollar-centric flights to safety has begun tobreak down, suggesting that investors may increasingly favor commodities and precious metalsover US dollars and US Treasuries as hedges against inflation and sovereign debt risk.

Diminishing US Credibility

The credibility of the US government and the Federal Reserve is gradually deteriorating. In theworst case, a total collapse of confidence could trigger a race to divest of US Treasuries and toshed US dollars, i.e., a hyperinflationary currency event. The declining US dollar and thediminishing desirability of US debt and of the Federal Reserve’s credibility bode well forcommodities and precious metals while warning away any sane investor from US Treasuries.

In the face of indefinite QE2, it remains unclear (1) when the disintegration of the US dollar’sstatus as the world reserve currency might accelerate and a new reserve currency will beestablished, (2) if and when holders of US Treasuries seeking a way out might reach critical masspotentially triggering a proverbial rush to the exits (i.e., a collapse of US Treasuries despite theFederal Reserve’s artificial demand), or (3) if and when a race, whether global or domestic, toshed US dollars in favor of equities, hard assets, alternative currencies, precious metals or otherreal goods might begin. The first and second processes (removal of the US dollar’s world reservestatus and the divestment of US Treasuries) are already under way and the Federal Reserve’scurrent policies are on track to eventually trigger the third.

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Fundamentally, the Federal Reserve cannot prevent rising prices while the US dollar moves lowerdue to QE2 and due to the US’ deteriorating creditworthiness and credibility, nor can it controlthe flow of liquidity resulting from its actions or, therefore, resulting asset price bubbles, whetherin the US or abroad. In light of the Federal Reserve’s current policies, it seems likely that, in thenext 12 months, global economic volatility related to inflation, currency debasem*nt and,

potentially, developing currency and trade wars will increase while the financial stability of theUS and of the Eurozone countries continues to decline and while commodity and precious metalsprices continue to move higher.


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