“Your currency is likely to become my problem” Former Chinese Vice Premier Zeng Peiyan in a speech, July, 2009

 

The list of shaky, dollar holding creditor nations continues to grow.  Surplus countries like Russia, China, Kuwait, Brazil, Switzerland, and as of July, India, are openly revealing their intention to diversify their nations’ currency reserves out of the U.S. dollar, in light of the U.S.’ rapid accumulation of debt in just the past six months.  “The major part of Indian reserves are in dollars – that is something that’s a problem for us.” (Suresh Tendulkar, Chair of India’s Economic Advisory Council, July, 2009)

 

Meanwhile, the S&P 500 stock Index is now trading at a record P/E ratio in the 120’s, not only because of a run up in stock prices over the past few months, but because of a dramatic diminution of corporate earnings. Emphasize dramatic. What accounts for the fall? Well, when spending by consumers accounts for 2/3 of a nation’s economy and those people suffer not only declines in the value of their homes, their largest asset, but also rising levels of joblessness, that spending can come to a sudden stop, as it has in the U.S. Given the fundamental source of the spending reduction, it would be foolish to expect a resumption in anywhere near the short-term. 

 

As a result, the majority of businesses are unable to reliably forecast a return to former levels of sales and profitability, meaning that these reduced levels of corporate earnings are neither one-time nor short-term, and in most cases, changes in corporate strategy won’t solve the problem. Instead, corporate leaders will address earnings shortfalls with more layoffs, compounding the spending and production conundrum,  further elevating the price/earnings ratio,  and rendering the datapoint even more irrelevant as a way to gauge value. 

 

As unattractive as current bank rates of return are, the stock market by comparison is today loaded with unacknowledged risks.  Tangible assets like art are far more transparent with a degree of stability that many financial institutions, and even some AAA-rated government debt, can only dream about.

 

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