“Non-financial assets form the greater part of world wealth and have been more stable in value during periods of financial and social turbulence.”     Roger Ibbotson and Gary Brinson, “Global Investing”

The devolution of confidence in traditional investment alternatives, in concert with the elevation of the importance of design and aesthetic throughout the world, points to a renaissance in the value of art to a degree never before witnessed.

After all, the art auction market is fair and transparent with a degree of stability that many financial institutions, and even some AAA-rated U.S. government debt, can only dream about. 

Foreign Investors Reducing Their Exposure to the Dollar

Because sovereign wealth funds have begun to more aggressively reduce their exposure to the dollar.  With over $3 trillion in investable assets, Foreign governments already own a whopping $1 trillion of Fannie and Freddie debt. Having watched as their investments in faltering U.S. banks such as Citibank (down 71% past 12-months) have cost them huge losses, Gulf state funds as well as China’s primary investment fund (SAFE) are increasingly diversifying out of dollar assets. China’s State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE), which holds most of China’s $1.8 trillion in foreign currency reserves in dollar-denominated investments, is evaluating investments outside of the U.S. Their move follows moves by Kuwait which cut its ties to the dollar in 2007 and their statements this week that they will not buy any additional Fannie or Freddie debt, and Singapore which has also reduced its exposure after watching its $5 billion stake in Merrill Lynch fall by almost 40% so far. The $200 billion in funds managed by the China Investment Corporation have taken huge negative hits as a result of their $3 billion investment in Blackstone Group in 2007 followed by their $5 billion in Morgan Stanley earlier this year. 

The largest sovereign wealth fund, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, is growing increasingly sensitive as its population shoulders the pain of inflation imported as a result of the countries’ tie to the dollar. And while the desire to diversify currency exposure is gaining strength, most sovereign funds, due to their own significant dollar holdings,  are concerned with doing so in a measured way that is unlikely to cause an accelerated dollar plunge. 

What is left then for those banks and investment banks in need of capital infusions, who don’t have the benefit of being Government Sponsored Entities, and can no longer rely on sovereign wealth funds to lend a hand? They, like Merrill Lynch announced this week, are reduced to selling assets. Having raised $15 billion in capital year-to-date from hedge and sovereign funds from Singapore, Thailand, Kuwait, and South Korea, the investment bank announced that it will sell its stake in Bloomberg.

Foreign investors currently hold around $2.6 trillion of U.S. Treasury Securities. Unfortunately, foreign investors’ questions about the strength of our assets don’t end with Fannie and Freddie. A clear indication of this latest statement comes in the form of credit insurance costs for AAA-rated U.S. Treasuries which in July rose to 16-20 basis points, higher than other nations for the first time ever. 

If the country is called upon to write the check to Fannie and Freddie, our increased debt burden will only serve to call into further question the health and reliability of the dollar, which exacerbates oil and food price inflation, and further threatens the dollar in an endless, macabre loop. 


Capucine Price


August, 2008