As the battle between Obama and Boehner rages on over the matter of the CR and the debt ceiling almost everyone sees this as a very extreme version of business as usual. This is not business as usual and as we move from one Act to the next Act in this saga it is becoming more clear to me that Obama may have - and I emphasize may have - an agenda that almost no one sees.
What is that agenda - dealing a final blow to the US dollar as the world's reserve currency. I readily admit I may be wrong on this thesis and only offer it as an alternative to the mainstream view of what is going on. If I can't explain something in a way that makes sense to me I continue to search out explanations that do make sense. I think perhaps there is a reason Obama is doing what he is for reasons that seem wholly improbable to most and I will get into that in a moment but first I want to talk about gold.
I have been asked time and again why gold fell so sharply right after Obama met with the CEO's of the big banks back in April. To me there is no doubt at all that those CEO's sold a massive amount of gold futures immediately after that meeting with Obama back in April. The question - why did they do that?
The answer may lie in the dark recesses of the shadow bank risk-on system that allows these banks to use the assets of others for speculative bets to the benefit of the bank. So how does that relate to the sharp sell-off in gold? Well maybe President Obama told the bank's CEO's that they could expect sovereigns to make a demand for the return of their gold holdings stored by JP Morgan. In other words sovereigns across the globe would be repatriating their gold.
Taking this a step further what happens if JP Morgan at some point decided to sell the gold held in trust for others and use the proceeds for speculative bets for their own account in other assets such as stocks or bonds. Would this be legal? I am not really sure but it would be typical of what has taken place in the shadow banking system. Consider that JP Morgan could see the storage agreement as an obligation of the bank to deliver X ounces of gold on demand. They could actually sell the gold and receive the cash from that sale and still meet their obligation's to deliver the gold on demand if they were able to buy the gold on the open market when a sovereign made demand on them.
Let's assume they did in fact sell the gold and invest the proceeds in stocks or bonds. They would then be earning profits based on the assets of others and that would be a pretty sweet deal and in particular if they were receiving a very modest storage fee for storing the gold that they really weren't storing. And they would rightly reason that at any point in time when a sovereign would make demand on them they could simply sell the asset they bought from the sale proceeds and go into the physical market and buy a quantity of gold sufficient to meet their obligations.
So how does that fit in with the crash in gold of over $200 in two days immediately after the bank CEO's met with Obama? Well, if the thesis I set forth above is accurate then when the bank did sell the physical gold they would need to cover the risk of price moving higher. In other words if they sold gold for $800 and at some future date a demand was made for the physical gold and the price was at that time $1400 the bank would have a big problem - a $600 per ounce deficiency meaning they wouldn't have the cash needed to buy the physical.
How would they protect against such risk? By implementing a hedge in gold futures. At the time they sold the physical gold they would buy an equal quantity of gold futures. In that sense if gold went from $800 to $1400 they would make a $600 profit on the futures contract and they would also have received $800 from the original sale and the sum of the two would be $1400 - enough cash to go into the physical market and buy enough physical gold to meet their obligations under the terms of the storage agreement.
Back to April of 2013 - if Obama told them to get ready as a demand for the physical was going to be made on them they would need to immediately acquire enough physical gold to meet those demands. What would that involve? They would need to cash out of the futures contracts and use the cash profits from those contracts to buy the physical. What else would they need to do? Well, let's say they invested the proceeds form the original sale of the gold in US Treasuries. The rest of the money they would need to raise the needed cash to buy the physical gold would have to come from the sale of their US Treasury holdings.
Consider that shortly after the meeting in early April gold has been in free fall and starting on May 1 Treasuries began their free fall. Also consider that at the time Treasuries started their descent the Fed hadn't yet started to hint at tapering. That began later on in the month of May after Treasuries had fallen by roughly 5%.
That is the most plausible reason I can come up with for why both gold and Treasuries fell so dramatically from about April 10 to May 22 when the Fed began to talk of taper. Movements after the Fed started the taper talk are based on different market dynamics but from the date of the Obama/banker meeting until the Fed began taper talk the market movements could be based substantially on the asset sale of the big banks and in particular JP Morgan to raise the cash to replace the physical gold needed to honor their obligations to those demanding the physical gold.
What happens next and what is the impact to gold?
So what is Obama doing here? The fact is that President Obama is in position to usher in a New World Order single-handedly. It can be argued that the President is in a position to do more damage - or benefit based on how you see it - in the short term than any President since Harry Truman.
What do I mean by a New World Order? What I mean is a New Bretton Woods system of global trade that ends up replacing the US dollar with the IMF's SDR as the world's reserve currency.
I have argued that Obama is in favor of such an arrangement and I think he is. What does a New Bretton Wood's system mean. It means the US dollar is no longer the world's reserve currency. Is that a good thing for the US? In the short term it could be argued that it is a bad thing as the US loses it's "exborbitant privilege" that allows the US to borrow and spend at will and without consequence - at least as it relates to the cost of borrowing. In the long term it could be the only real answer to the problems we face today.
How would such an arrangement be configured. Well, much like Keynes originally envisioned - that is a hard fix on all sovereign currencies relative to the reserve currency - not a floating structure as we now have. When the original Bretton Wood's adjourned what we had was an arrangement where currencies were fixed to the dollar and convertible to gold at the rate of $35 an ounce. Keynes pointed out that the dollar/gold fix wouldn't be a sustainable arrangement in that as M2 expanded as it would the numbers of dollars in circulation would end up meaning that the gold reserves held by the US would be insufficient and redemption of US dollars into gold wouldn't be possible.
Keynes was right of course and we went off the gold fix arrangement in the 70's under President Nixon. Our system today is one where the US dollar remains the reserve currency by default and all currencies are allowed to float against one another but the majority of international trade is conducted in US dollars. That means that each sovereign who is a net exporter receives dollars and ends up with a surplus of US dollars and each country that is a net importer ends up with a shortage of US dollars.
That in itself has the potential to disrupt global trade as liquidity shortages of the reserve asset inhibit global GDP and wreak havoc on net import countries. And those countries with a surplus of the reserve asset must do something with those dollars. What the exporting countries do is exchange the US dollars received by companies that are domiciled in the exporting country with the sovereign currency of that nation leaving the nations central bank with an excess of the reserve asset. What the exporting countries like China and Japan do with those reserves for the most part is to buy US Treasuries - thus the "exorbitant privilege" that is bestowed upon the US.
The result of this dynamic is that global economies are placed in peril when the US makes a misstep that produces volatile shifts in the US dollar and interest rates on US Treasuries. A fear induced credit freeze can have severe liquidity problems as it relates to reserve currencies and countries - to the extent they are able - must hold excess dollars or Treasuries as insurance against a freeze up in the credit markets and a liquidity crisis.
A solution to this problem is to abandon the US dollar as a reserve currency and move to a non-sovereign reserve asset such as the IMF's SDR. In such an arrangement each sovereign would be allocated SDR's that would be used to settle international trade obligations. The ideal situation would be to assign SDR's based in part on a formula that related to the sovereigns gold holdings. In other words the SDR would have a formulaic gold backing.
Perhaps more important to the arrangement is that the IMF would act as a sort of central bank to all central banks in that they would drain reserves from those holding an excess and inject reserves into the systems of those in need of reserves much like the Fed's system accommodates liquidity amongst member banks by facilitating the overnight lending of reserves to member banks whose reserves fall below the mandated threshold and in extreme situations acting as the lender of last resort for banks who are short of liquidity.
Back in 2009 Jose Ocampo, former United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs explained the flaws in the existing system as follows:
Both China and the United Nations Commission on Reforms of the International Monetary and Financial System have called for a new global reserve system. That issue should be at the top of the agenda when the IMF's International Monetary and Financial Committee next meet.
The essential idea is quite simple: in the long run, an international monetary system cannot be built on a national currency - a point made a half-century ago by the Belgian-American economist Robert Triffin. Recognition of this fundamental problem was the reason why the IMF's Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) were created in the 1960's.
The dollar standard with which the world has lived since the early 1970's has three fundamental flaws. First, as with all systems that preceded it, it puts the burden of adjustment on deficit countries, not on surplus countries. The main exception is the United States, which, thanks to its reserve currency status, has so far been able to finance its deficit by issuing dollar liabilities that are held by the rest of the world.
Second, the system is unstable, because it makes the major reserve currency's value dependent on US macroeconomic policy and the vagaries of the US balance of payments and associated domestic deficits. Since the abandonment of gold-dollar parity in 1971, the world has experienced increasingly intense cycles in the value of the dollar and the US current account. The dollar has lost what any reserve asset should have: a stable value. The governor of China's central bank recently emphasized this basic point.
Third, the current system is inequitable, because it forces a transfer of resources from developing countries to the industrial nations that provide reserve currencies. This transfer has dramatically increased over the past two decades. Developing countries' main defense against world financial instability has been to accumulate international reserves.
The issue is not a matter of whether or not a New Bretton Wood's system that uses the SDR would be an improved system - the issue is one of getting the United States to buy into such a system and abandon its "exorbitant privilege" status. Perhaps more relevant to the matter is whether it even matters at this point what the political class in Washington thinks as it appears they won't be able to stop it anyway. We know that since the beginning of the year the playing field has changed dramatically and led by China with bi-lateral trade agreements popping up all over the place - trade agreements that literally by-pass the US dollar.
The most recent being the ECB/PBOC currency swap deal that effectively by-passes the US dollar explained here:
China and the European Central Bank have signed a currency swap agreement worth 350bn yuan ($57bn; £36bn), state-owned Xinhua news agency has said.
Such agreements mean the central banks can exchange currencies and firms can settle trade in local currencies rather than in US dollars.
It is stunning to me that the main stream media fails to link the current standoff in Washington to the rapidly changing dynamic of these bi-lateral trade agreements preferring to portray the whole matter as utter and complete dysfunction on the part of Congress. I would suggest that to ignore this matter is to ignore one of the most relevant issues facing global economies in the coming weeks and months.
But back to the question set forth in the sub-heading above - what happens to gold if the US dollar is suddenly dethroned as the world's reserve currency? Well, if the SDR does emerge as the new reserve asset and if it does have some type of formulaic gold backing then the gold held by sovereigns effectively reduces the amount of gold in circulation as each sovereigns gold holdings will become static.
Additionally the value of the US dollar will fall dramatically as will US Treasuries in the short term as they will no longer be needed as reserve asset liquidity insurance. That means we could see a very rapid explosion in the price of gold.
The standoff - political dysfunction or planned dollar destruction?
Consider that the Republican controlled House of Representatives has made a number of gestures designed to retain their bargaining chips while offering to alleviate the now imminent threat of US default. A short term offer to increase the debt ceiling for 6 weeks that would allow the US to avoid debt obligation default was summarily rejected by President Obama on the pretext that it was short term.
One wonders if Obama isn't OK with a default which seems a very real possibility at this point as we are only a matter of days away from that occurring. Whether Obama is so confident of his position that he is certain Speaker Boehner will agree to "unconditional surrender" or whether there could be another agenda here is not so clear to me. Obama seems to be confident that his all in bet won't be called by Boehner but I think Obama actually knows that Boehner will call the bet. How Obama and Jack Lew respond to this on Thursday is another matter.
They could prioritize payments and in so doing pay the debt obligations of the US that are coming due in the short term if they choose to do so. However, as Jack Lew pointed out last week that isn't really so easy to do and is simply not an option. Actually it is an option so that too tends to suggest the President will allow a default - at least in the short run.
Consider this statement from a Reuters article - World top bankers warn of dire consequences if U.S. defaults:
Jain, JPMorgan Chase chief executive Jamie Dimon and Baudouin Prot, chairman of BNP Paribas, said a default would have dramatic consequences on the value of U.S. debt and the dollar, and likely would plunge the world into another recession.
It appears to me there is more to the stand-off between the House Republicans and President Obama than meets the eye - at least from the President's perspective. Whether that is true or not is yet to be seen but if we do move past D-day on this matter it is safe to say that the dollar's status as the world's reserve currency will come to an end.
Furthermore, it won't be a matter of the decision being based on gaining the political class support for such an arrangement - it will be the de facto outcome of a decision that ultimately must fall on the President himself.
Obama - hero or villain?
What comes to mind is the idea of "short term pain for long term gain." If we do actually default the short term consequence will be stunning in it's impact on markets across the globe and the impact will be decidedly negative. It can be argued though that in the aftermath of the crisis/crash scenario that political leaders across the globe will come together in rapid fashion and implement the new currency regime based on the SDR.
Consider this won't take long at all as the system is already substantially in place and the magnitude of the work that has been done on this in the aftermath of the Great Recession means that a New Bretton Wood's System could be put in place by convening world leaders and hammering out the necessary agreements over a single weekend. Odds are the agreements are already in place in draft form.
In the aftermath of this would be a brief period of deleveraging that will be decidedly painful for many who are overleveraged. A process of real price discovery will ensue and the consequence of a widespread true price discovery will pull the curtain back and force a "mark to market" on assets that have been propped up by artificial means since the end of the Great Recession.
My guess is that it won't be the kind of systemic risk type crisis we saw in 2008. Just looking at the massive levels of excess reserves in the bank system would suggest that any "run on the bank" will end in short order as there can be no question the banking system as a whole is highly liquid - perhaps more so than at anytime in history. Consider that a combination of required and excess reserves means that the banking system in the aggregate is holding cash equal to almost 30% of M2. If you want your money you will be able to get it.
Bank capital issues may be a real concern though as loan loss reserves may not be sufficient but that too seems to be a situation of isolated instances and not a systemic crisis. After all there has been a significant effort to build bank capital in the aftermath of the Great Recession and the major banks have all passed the stress tests that deal with a crisis event. In fact the crisis event that they were asked to consider involved a stock market crash of 50% and again they all met the criteria for withstanding such an event.
Once the cleansing process is complete one can argue that the private sector banks will be in position to rapidly reflate through fractional bank lending. Based on current reserve levels the banks could literally expand M2 three fold and M2 velocity - it can be argued - would revert to normal levels.
From my perspective we could be on our way to real growth fueled by private sector expansion as opposed to the current state of affairs that is wholly dependent on ever increasing fiscal stimulus provided by an ever increasing level of public debt that is financed through deficit spending - a situation that all know is not sustainable in the long term.
I didn't vote for President Obama but I am not one of those who falls hard on one side or the other on the matter of Republican/Democrat or fiscal conservative/fiscal liberal. The reason - I think they are all wrong. That said if Obama's agenda is the one set forth in my thesis then I readily admit his current stance is both bold and courageous.
More importantly I think it is probably the only longer term solution to our current dilemma. The cleansing process will be painful - perhaps more painful than many can fathom but the aftermath of the process could set us once again on a path to real growth and on a global scale. The truth is our systems are broken and neither the fiscal liberals or the fiscal conservatives offer a solution that works.
Most - preferring to embrace the status quo - will reject my thesis but those who see it as a real possibility need to consider how this impacts investment assets. If I end up being right on this the best asset going forward will be gold (NYSEARCA:GLD) and other precious metals. Mind you I am not a gold bug. My calls on gold in the aftermath of the Great Recession have been both bullish and bearish based on reasons I have clearly articulated. Furthermore, my calls on gold have been much more accurate as to timing than my calls on stocks.
Both stocks (NYSEARCA:SPY) and bonds (NYSEARCA:TLT) will be crushed in this scenario in the short term. Those who have a long term buy and hold strategy would be well advised to take protection with SPY puts or any of the many VIX ETF's such as (NYSEARCA:UVXY) and(NYSEARCA:VXX).
Make no mistake on this - I don't see this as a doomsday forecast. To the contrary - I think we have one more leg down in a secular bear market that began at the turn of the century. The playing field has changed and changed in a dramatic way as all countries now claim a right to be involved and part of global prosperity. The emerging market economies are rightfully demanding a more stable playing field than the current system of global trade offers and it would appear they are going to force the issue and I would suggest they are proving they can do so with the numerous bi-lateral trade agreements that have been signed since the first of the year.
In closing consider these excerpts from an article that appeared on Yahoo.com this morning dealing with the "new world order"
"As US politicians of both political parties (fail to find a) viable deal to bring normality to the body politic they brag about, it is perhaps a good time for the befuddled world to start considering building a de-Americanised world," the commentary on state news agency Xinhua said.
"A new world order should be put in place, according to which all nations, big or small, poor or rich, can have their key interests respected and protected on an equal footing."
Additional disclosure: I am also long PCLN puts and SPY puts