Saturday, September 18, 2010

Fighting Your Enemy by Building Him Up

As Adrian Ash notes, countries that wanted to destroy their enemies would secretly inflate their enemies' money - printing tons more of it - to ruin their economies and thus impair their ability to defend themselves. The British did it to the infant U.S. states, you will recall, during the American Revolution.

Weakening the enemies' currency is out in this Alice in Wonderland fiat world. Now the strategy is the exact opposite.

Japan is seething over China's recent mass-purchases of the Yen. Quoting Peking's finance minister, Michael Pettis, Ash writes that "China's Yen purchases this year equal $27 billion, more than six times China's combined Yen buying in the previous five years."
"Everyone is playing the same game," says Pettis – "trying to force the brunt of the adjustment abroad...and here we have China and Japan squabbling over Chinese attempts to recycle its trade surplus into Japan rather than into the US or Europe."

China buys the Yen, thus hurting Japanese exports...and so Japan buys up Dollars...which are already devalued by the US Fed's zero-rate policy, and are now pulling ahead of the Yen in the race to the bottom. Over in Europe, the Swiss National Bank sold its own Francs for Euros in the spring of this year, while the Bank of England's photon forgery team finished flooding the City of London with Pounds, creating enough money to fund an entire year of government borrowing and pushing consumer-price inflation above its own "upper tolerance" in 19 of the last 36 months with its own near-zero rates.

"The intervention is positive for the [US] Treasuries market, especially short-dated issues which Japan will likely focus on," Reuters quotes one market strategist today. Which sounds a sweet deal for the Fed's campaign to destroy Dollar savers. But nobody wins this war of attrition, however much money they print up and spend.

Rumor says Tokyo threw ¥500bn or perhaps ¥1 trillion at the Dollar on Wednesday. At that rate, it's got another 34 days to go before matching the 2003-2004 campaign, when Japan tried to defend the Dollar above ¥100. It's since slipped a further ¥17 regardless, and ¥80 has become the "line in the sand" according to currency traders.

There's money to be made here, of course, either fighting the Fed or supporting the rear-guard action in Tokyo. But in the absence of strong consumer demand at home, central-bank policy the world over is dead set on weakening the local currency – wherever you live – in a bid to win market-share in exports, no matter the cost.

Investors and savers wanting a flak jacket just pushed gold to new Dollar highs, with silver hitting its best level in almost three decades. No, they're not guaranteed to keep rising, but it's hard to see them falling too far when policy worldwide turns to actively denting the value of cash. At least no one can create precious metals at will – unlike the Yen, Dollar or Swissie – simply to shell them into the market in a war everyone loses.

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