Triffin's Paradox

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What Will Happen Next For the US Dollar

And why it will be bad for all, including America
Wednesday, February 18, 2015, 10:44 PM

Executive Summary

  • Why currency wars are heating up, and will get more intense from here
  • Why it's critical to understand the influence that Triffin's Paradox has on the situation
  • Why global crises will cause the dollar to strengthen further
  • What will happen next

If you have not yet read How Many More “Saves” Are Left in the Central Bank Bazookas? available free to all readers, please click here to read it first.

In Part 1, we reviewed the deterioration of the dominant narrative of the past six years—that central banks can move markets higher and generate growth more or less at will.  In shorthand: central bank omnipotence.

Three dynamics are undermining that narrative: diminishing returns on central bank monetary policies and public relations pronouncements; a collapse in oil prices that is destabilizing a key sector of the global economy, and the strengthening U.S. dollar, which is wreaking havoc on emerging-market currencies and economies.

If central banks really had such absolute control of the financial universe, would they let these three trends undermine their policies and power? The answer is clearly “no.”

There are a number of other factors undermining the “central banks are in control” narrative, but the field of battle where central banks are most likely to lose is foreign exchange (FX), for two fundamental reasons:

1.  The FX market dwarfs the central banks. The equivalent of the entire Federal Reserve balance sheet ($4.5 trillion) trades in the FX markets every few days.  Given the size of the market, central banks cannot manipulate the FX market via proxies or direct purchases for long. The only central-bank controlled factors that influence FX are interest rates paid on government bonds and money-printing. The first supports the currency, the second weakens it.

2.  The FX market is still an open market, influenced by government bond interest rates, trade deficits and surpluses, perceptions of risk and speculative bets. This mix is much more dynamic than the two levers controlled by central banks: setting interest rates targets and creating new money to buy bonds.

Let’s trace the primary dynamics of the FX market, which is currently being destabilized by the rising U.S. dollar... » Read more

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The Dollar May Remain Strong For Longer Than We Think

Why demand for it is higher than other fiat currencies
Tuesday, September 16, 2014, 10:50 PM

I have long been a dollar bull, not for any over-arching reasons based on inflation, deflation, rising geopolitical multi-polarity or any of the other issues that touch on the dollar’s valuation vis-à-vis other currencies. My analysis focuses on a few basics:  the dollar’s status as the global reserve currency, Triffin’s Paradox (a.k.a. Triffin’s Dilemma) and global capital flows into the dollar and dollar-denominated assets such as U.S. Treasury bonds. » Read more

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Off the Cuff: When the Wheels Will Come Off

The argument for a major correction by Spring
Thursday, February 14, 2013, 11:47 AM

In this week's Off the Cuff podcast, Chris and Charles discuss:

  • The (Dire) State of the Union
    • The money for the Administration's grand vision just doesn't exist
  • The Housing Market
    • Bubble pricing returning to several markets
  • Currency wars
    • Why the dollar will likely strengthen further from here
  • The Next Correction
    • Here by summer?
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Why Gold & the Dollar May Both Rise from Here

An important possibility to consider
Tuesday, November 13, 2012, 11:05 AM

Executive Summary

  • Triffin's Paradox leads to four principal conclusions that indicate why the U.S. dollar may well continue to strengthen from here
  • Why the euro's troubles have been good for the price of gold
  • Why the dollar can strengthen despite the United States' wishes
  • Why the future may well see the price of both gold and the U.S. dollar rise

If you have not yet read Part I: Gold & the Dollar are Less Correlated then Everyone Thinks, available free to all readers, please click here to read it first.

In Part I, we examined the commonly offered correlations between the dollar, gold, interest rates, and the monetary base, and found no consistent correlations between any of these and the domestic economy.  Clearly, the trade-weighted value of the dollar and the value of gold have at best marginal impact on the domestic economy. 

Perhaps the dollar’s primary impact is on the international economy, as suggested by Triffin’s Paradox, which begins with the premise that the needs of the global trading community are different from the needs of domestic policy makers.

Prior to 1971, the dollar was backed by gold, which acted as a supra-national anchor to the dollar's reserve status.  As the U.S. monetary base expanded while gold remained artificially pegged at $35 an ounce, roughly half of America’s gold reserves were shipped overseas before the policy was jettisoned.

Here is the Wikipedia entry on Triffin’s Paradox:

The Triffin paradox is a theory that when a national currency also serves as an international reserve currency, there could be conflicts of interest between short-term domestic and long-term international economic objectives. This dilemma was first identified by Belgian-American economist Robert Triffin in the 1960s, who pointed out that the country whose currency foreign nations wish to hold (the global reserve currency) must be willing to supply the world with an extra supply of its currency to fulfill world demand for this 'reserve' currency (foreign exchange reserves) and thus cause a trade deficit. (emphasis added)

The use of a national currency (i.e. the U.S. dollar) as global reserve currency leads to a tension between national monetary policy and global monetary policy. This is reflected in fundamental imbalances in the balance of payments, specifically the current account: some goals require an overall flow of dollars out of the United States, while others require an overall flow of dollars in to the United States. Net currency inflows and outflows cannot both happen at once.

This leads to some startling conclusions that many have great difficulty accepting... » Read more

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Gold & the Dollar are Less Correlated than Everyone Thinks

Understanding the impact of Triffin's Paradox
Tuesday, November 13, 2012, 11:03 AM

Whenever I make the case for a stronger U.S. dollar (USD), the feedback can be sorted into three basic reasons why the dollar will continue declining in value:

  1. The USD may gain relative to other currencies, but since all fiat currencies are declining against gold, it doesn’t mean that the USD is actually gaining value; in fact, all paper money is losing value.
  2. When the global financial system finally crashes, won’t that include the dollar?
  3. The Federal Reserve is “printing” (creating) money, and that will continue eroding the purchasing power of the USD. Lowering interest rates to zero has dropped the yield paid on Treasury bonds, which also weakens the dollar.

The general notion here is that, given the root causes of our economic distemper – rampant financialization, over-leverage and over-indebtedness, a politically dominant parasitic banking sector, an aging population, overpromised entitlements, a financial business model based on fraud, Federal Reserve monetizing of debt, and a dysfunctional political system, to mention only the top of the list – how can the USD appreciate in real terms? » Read more