The Long, Slow Flight From the US Dollar

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Fortune magazine has an interesting piece summing up some recent trends in the dollar. While there has not been a radical or frantic dumping of the dollar, central banks and private investors continue to distance themselves from the US Dollar. The piece notes that other dollars, namely the Australian and Canadian ones, are gaining in prestige:

A new report from Morgan Stanley analyst Emma Lawson confirms what many had suspected: the dollar is firmly on its way to losing its status as the reserve currency of the world. We already knew that central banks have preferred gold to dollars, and that they’re even selling their gold for cash; now, according to Lawson’s data, it seems that those central banks prefer almost anything to dollars.

The new competition over reserve currency is interesting for more than its economics since it is an important political issue. The nation that can build up its own currency as a reserve currency will expand its ability to inflate and incur debt with less fear of inflation.

The US has benefited from this situation for decades. As the Fed inflates to finance deficit spending and to “stimulate” consumer spending, dollars are eventually absorbed by foreign central banks, put in reserves and out of circulation. The United States has managed to stave off the effects of reckless money printing for decades thanks to the willingness of foreign investors and central banks to sit on dollars as a store of value.

Now the demand for the dollar is fading away slowly. This won’t mean sudden hyperinflation, however, since the economy is still in terrible shape, and even if a boatload of dollars were to return to our shores right now, the lack of lending and spending, as a consequence of deflating portfolios across the land, will keep prices relatively contained, at least in the short- and possibly medium-term.

The good news is that the fall of the dollar will mean that the United States will slowly have to come to the realization that it won’t be able to engage in endless deficit spending and monetization of debt without feeling the consequences of runaway inflation. The empire has been financed by a dollar that was the world’s reserve currency. Those days are coming to an end.

11:43 pm on July 9, 2010