The first time we explained that one of the biggest risks facing a world in which the dollar is the reserve currency is a global USD shortage, was in mid-2009, when we wrote “How The Federal Reserve Bailed Out The World.”
At the time, the IMF calculated that just ahead of the financial crisis, “major European banks’ US dollar funding gap had reached $1.0–1.2 trillion by mid-2007. Until the onset of the crisis, European banks had met this need by tapping the interbank market ($432 billion) and by borrowing from central banks ($386 billion), and used FX swaps ($315 billion) to convert (primarily) domestic currency funding into dollars.” The IMF then extrapolated that “were all liabilities to non-banks treated as short-term funding, the upper-bound estimate would be $6.5 trillion.”
Since then the shortage, which some have dubbed a potential multi-trillion dollar margin call, has only grown and became a prominent issue back in March of 2015, when this phenomenon was used to explain why the cross-currency swap had plunged to multi-year lows. As JPM explained at the time, “the fx basis reflects the relative supply and demand for dollar vs. foreign currency funds and a very negative basis currently points to relative shortage of USD funding or relative abundance of funding in other currencies. Such supply and demand imbalances can create big shifts in the fx basis away from its actuarial value of zero.”
Fast forward a year and a half later, when none other than the Bank of International Settlements, or the “Central canks’ central bank”, warned last November that it was no longer the VIX that was the widely accepted barometer of market “fear”, it was now the dollar’s turn to become the global fear gauge: “just as the VIX index was a good summary measure of the price of balance sheet before the crisis, so the dollar has become a good measure of the price of balance sheet after the crisis. The mantle of the barometer of risk appetite and leverage has slipped from the VIX, and has passed to the dollar.”
Shortly thereafter we once recapped the main risks emerging from this increasingly more prominent threat to global financial stability, and wondered at what point would the Fed finally address this risk pointed out not only by this website for nearly 8 years, but also by the BIS, in a post which piggybacked on the recent work by ADM ISI’s Paul Mylchreest, who has made tracking the global dollar shortage one of his primary objectives.
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Now, in an exhaustive, 70 minute interview, submitted by Patrick Ceresna at MacroVoices.com, another prominent analyst who has been closely tracking the global dollar shortage, Alhambra Partners’ Jeffrey Snider sat down with Erik Townsend to explain – once again – why this is such a critical topic, even if it comes at a time of unprecedented global complacency (it’s amazing what record high stock prices will do to concerns about the future, or lack thereof).
As Snider puts it, while most other risk indicators imply smooth sailing, “there is ‘something’ weird going on” when it comes to dollar funding and global imbalances of the world’s reserve currency, i.e., dollar shortage.
- In the interview, among the many topics covered, are
- Understanding the Eurodollar Money Market
- Swap Spreads and Interbank Hierarchy
- Dimensions in the Eurodollar Futures and Eurodollar Money Supply
- Why does the World Need So Many Dollars?
- How the Eurodollar market supplanted the Bretton Woods System
- U.S. Dollar and the Dollar Funding Gap
- Reflation Trade Debunked
- Interest Rates Trapped
- Failing Global Currency System
While we urge readers to listen to the full interview below, here are some of the highlights, starting with “why the Dollar shortage a symptom of an inherently unstable system.”
As Snider explains, “the dollar shortage isn’t so much the shortage per se, it’s the fact that it’s a symptom of what is an inherently unstable system.” He notes that “the reason banks are withdrawing from the system is that it’s just is no longer tenable” and “so there has to be some kind of – whether you want to look at it like another Bretton Woods – conference, a global monetary system, a global monetary get together where people start to analyze solutions to the problem as they are rather than keep trying to apply band aids that are not going to work. “
But, he concludes, “step one of that task is to actually recognize the problem as it is and so doing more stimulus or doing more QE isn’t going to solve anything it isn’t do anything just like prior QEs and prior stimulus haven’t done anything either because the problem is an unstable system.”
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Snider focuses on the Eurodollar system, which he defines as a problem of “decay and dysfunction” and explains that “nothing ever happens in a straight line even the Eurodollar problem has not been a singular event. It’s not been a decade long straight line of decay and dysfunction.”
He goes on to say that the fact that after enough time these markets have adjusted to the fact that the economy’s going to be bad for a very long time until something actually changes and so true reflation is predicated on something actually changing rather than the hope that something might change.
Looking at history, Snider observes that “what happened in July 2008 obviously was the fact that everyone decided almost all at once that wasn’t the right interpretation of what the Fed was doing nor was it the right interpretation of the dollar system overall. So, that reflation ended in reality which was the dollar system was eroding and it was eroding in a very dangerous way and that’s why oil prices essentially crashed from July till I think January 2009.”
An implication of the ongoing reserve currency funding shortage is that, according to Snider, despite the occasional blip (arguably funded by massive Chinese credit creation), “reflation is going to fail and there’s nothing the Fed can do about it.” He goes on to state that “until they fix the global dollar problem we’re not going to fix the global economy and so we’re kind of stuck gyrating between various levels of really bad. We go from the lack of recovery to what looks like a global recession to the lack of recovery and back again” as a result he thinks that “reflation is going to fail.”
Snider also said that “because of how they’ve defined the last ten years” even the Fed “no longer believes that it’s in its interest to do anything.” He agrees and sais that “there’s nothing that the Fed can do about it.”
“In other words, we want them to start considering the global currency system and how it actually is operating and failing rather than their stylized academic approach which doesn’t apply. And until they’re actually convinced that there is a role for the central bank in that condition output gap or not, we’re kind of stuck.”
The failure to stimulate benign inflation is captured on the next two charts which show “why this version of ‘reflation’ is so far less than even 2013’s version.“
His troubling assessment: “I hate to think of what the next decade might look like because history is not very kind in these kinds of situations where you have prolonged periods of stagnation.“
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Putting it all together, Snider goes on to say that the Eurodollar futures market in particular is saying is that “if the Fed is going to raise rates it’s not to raise rates for a long or it’s not going to be able to raise rates for long.” Echoing a warning we – and many others have made on many occasions – Snider says that if the yield curve happens to invert again “if they ever get that far” then it will “immediately be like in 2005 or 2006 all over again it won’t stay that way for very long either the market will force the Feds’ hand or the Fed will realize the error and correct it. What’s important about this is that “in each of these reflation episodes you can clearly see the market’s faith in that reflation diminishes each time for these very reasons that we’re talking about because these markets have become attuned to the fact the Fed isn’t exactly what everybody thought it was, monetary policy isn’t what everybody thought it was.”
Snider summarizes by saying that “the fact that these markets realize that there’s a problem in Eurodollar system, there’s no banking to be had, no additional marginal banking capacity being added and without it none of these stuff really matters, none of these other stuff really matters. That’s the only thing that truly matters” and concludes gloomily that “the probability scenarios for economic and financial future are much darker now than they were three years ago.“
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Snider’s full interview can be heard below (Here is a link to the entire podcast transcript):
We also urge listeners to follow along using Snider’s prepared slides presented below.