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Debt: a synthetic short position in the dollar
July 23, 2004

A short position is when you have sold something you don’t own. Take a stock as an example. If you borrow the stock and sell it you are short the stock. At some point you have to buy the stock in order to give back that which you borrowed. Because you will eventually have to buy the stock that you sold short, the fact that you are short means there is latent demand for the stock.

It has been said that the tremendous amount of US debt can be likened to a synthetic short position in the dollar because the debt must be repaid at some point, and repaying the debt will require dollars. This demand for dollars will then, supposedly, increase the price of dollars and strengthen the dollar on foreign exchange markets. A stronger dollar implies a lower gold price, which is why the synthetic short position in the dollar has a few gold investors worried.

Maturing debt is normally repaid by issuing new debt with no net demand for dollars and, hence, no increase in the value of the dollar. However, if the credit quality of the issuer is cast into doubt, investors may not be willing to buy the new debt -- at least not at the same price as the existing debt. Several things could then happen.

The borrower could default on the maturing debt and not repay it at all. In this case the invested money is lost causing a contraction in the money supply. Less money increases the value of the remaining money and so defaults increase the value of cash (dollars).

If the borrower sells assets to raise cash and pay off the debt the result is the same. An increase in asset sales will depress the value of assets and increase the relative value of dollars.

If the US economy was a closed system one could therefore make the case that debt represents a synthetic short in the dollar since, at some point, dollars will be needed to repay the debt when new debt cannot be issued.

But the US is part of a world economy and we have to consider not only the value of the dollar relative to US assets and labor, but also against other currencies.

The US government’s budget deficit is rapidly increasing the supply of US debt, thereby increasing interest rates. As a result of higher interest rates the US economy is likely to slow down and a slower economy in conjunction with higher interest rates can cause an increase in defaults and asset sales.

While defaults and asset sales are deflationary, and hence increase the value of the dollar inside the US, I find it hard to believe that foreign investors are going to fall over themselves to snap up more US stocks and bonds. Imagine: falling asset prices, rising interest rates and a contracting economy. Under those circumstances why would foreign investors want to invest in the US?

If the US loses its appeal to foreign investors the demand for dollars on foreign exchange markets will decline, and the dollar will weaken against other currencies.

In summary then, the dollar could appreciate within the US against assets and labor but simultaneously fall against other currencies -- leading to higher gold prices.

Most currency traders do not share my views and still see higher interest rates as positive for the dollar. The dollar strengthened this week because Alan Greenspan gave an upbeat assessment of the economy and his comments were interpreted to mean that interest rates would continue to rise gradually while any sign of inflation would be dealt with harshly.

Because the dollar strengthened the gold price declined. Until we see evidence that higher interest rates are hurting the economy the dollar will continue to strengthen as rates edge upwards. And unless the dollar weakens in the face of higher interest rates the gold price is unlikely to sustain a rally.

Paul van Eeden


Paul van Eeden works primarily to find investments for his own portfolio and shares his investment ideas with subscribers to his weekly investment publication. For more information please visit his website (www.paulvaneeden.com) or contact his publisher at (800) 528-0559 or (602) 252-4477.

Disclaimer

This letter/article is not intended to meet your specific individual investment needs and it is not tailored to your personal financial situation. Nothing contained herein constitutes, is intended, or deemed to be -- either implied or otherwise -- investment advice. This letter/article reflects the personal views and opinions of Paul van Eeden and that is all it purports to be. While the information herein is believed to be accurate and reliable it is not guaranteed or implied to be so. The information herein may not be complete or correct; it is provided in good faith but without any legal responsibility or obligation to provide future updates. Neither Paul van Eeden, nor anyone else, accepts any responsibility, or assumes any liability, whatsoever, for any direct, indirect or consequential loss arising from the use of the information in this letter/article. The information contained herein is subject to change without notice, may become outdated and will not be updated. Paul van Eeden, entities that he controls, family, friends, employees, associates, and others may have positions in securities mentioned, or discussed, in this letter/article. While every attempt is made to avoid conflicts of interest, such conflicts do arise from time to time. Whenever a conflict of interest arises, every attempt is made to resolve such conflict in the best possible interest of all parties, but you should not assume that your interest would be placed ahead of anyone else’s interest in the event of a conflict of interest. No part of this letter/article may be reproduced, copied, emailed, faxed, or distributed (in any form) without the express written permission of Paul van Eeden. Everything contained herein is subject to international copyright protection.


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