Still it’s a must-read when the Journal brings its considerable powers to bear, as it does here. The story’s lead author, Craig Karmin, has a new book called “Biography of the Dollar” and we get lots of good background here on the dollar’s place in the global economy, whose $3.2 trillion in transactions a day are 86 percent dollar-denominated in some form. We specifically love the brilliant analogy of the buck as PC Guy:
Yet for all of the gloom, the world is unready to let go of America’s unloved dollar. Akin to the way Microsoft’s often-criticized Windows operating system remains indispensable to the majority of computer users, the dollar remains the common language of finance, the medium of exchange in everything from sugar to wheat to oil. Shaking the dollar loose from that place would require a vast reworking of the global financial system that few parties seem prepared to confront.
So is the euro the Mac of the global financial system?
And here’s an interesting bit of history:
At the beginning of the 20th century, the U.S. was already the world’s largest economy, but the British pound still accounted for nearly two-thirds of official foreign-exchange reserves held by the world’s central banks. The dollar didn’t emerge as the dominant currency until after World War II devastated Europe. Even then, some commodities still traded in pounds: The London sugar market didn’t jettison sterling for a dollar-denominated trading contract until around 1980.
Some stories are worth waiting for.
The WSJ pairs its front-page dollar story with one on the commodities boom, reporting that jittery stock and bond investors have inflated prices by taking money out of those markets and parking it in things like oil and wheat futures. Of course prices are also being inflated by, well, inflation as they buck slides as the economy tanks and the Fed prints money to bail out the financial system and rescue said tanking economy.
Is this where the bubble’s gone now? First tech, then real estate, and now commodities? Sure looks like it.
The price run-ups are leading some analysts to declare bubbles in the hottest markets. That raises the prospect that some commodity prices could come tumbling back down as rapidly as they have risen if they aren’t underpinned by genuine demand.
“As an economist it’s hard for me to sit here and look at corn and bean and wheat prices and explain it with fundamentals,” says Dan Basse, president of AgResource, an agriculture market-research company in Chicago. “The market would suggest we’re extremely overpriced,” he says.
Meanwhile, oil hit a new nominal record, and is less than a dollar away from an all-time, inflation-adjusted high.
The WSJ reports on its Money & Investing front that accounting regulators are looking into tightening rules on banks’ off-balance-sheet practices, which helped fuel the credit bubble that has burst so disastrously. The rules were tightened after Enron, but the banks found loopholes easy enough.
Any changes could have a big impact on bank business models. In 2007, Citigroup Inc. had about $1.1 trillion in assets—equal to about half the bank’s overall assets—in off-balance-sheet vehicles.
For investors, consolidation of more assets on banks’ books could be a mixed blessing. In the short term, it would place additional strain on banks at a time when they can least afford it. Longer term, investors would be less likely to get sandbagged by losses, while bank executives likely will have a better handle on risks that are on their books.
Floyd Norris, in his C1 NYT column, says banks haven’t even been following the rules as they are currently written.
The FT reports that there’s still a lot of cash out there, and the private-equity folks aren’t having trouble getting their grubby little hands on it. The pink paper says fundraising in the business is at levels similar to those at the peak last year.
Mr Brem believed investors continued to embrace private equity because they had learnt “the best time to invest is when things look like they are going wrong”.
I guess it’s never a bad time to hand your money over to these guys.