Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Posts Tagged ‘stock market’

The Day the Markets Crashed

Posted by butalidnl on 27 January 2012

(To fully understand this story, refer to 2012:The Other Prediction , where I explained why the US dollar would crash on 21 December 2012)

It was the morning of Friday, 21 December 2012, and the bell at the New York Stock Exchange was about to ring. Gloom and a sense of foreboding hung over the trading floor. Outside, there were hundreds of ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protesters rallying against the abuses of the 1%.

It was not only ‘triple witching’ day (the day when all kinds of option contracts expire), but also only three full days before the trading year ends; and many traders were still holding more US stocks than they wanted. The Dow Jones stocks that they still held no longer seem to be safe anymore, and they had to have ‘safe’ stocks in their portfolio by year-end. Thus, many traders were set to sell off the rest of their Dow Jones stock holdings that day.

2012 had been a disastrous year. Till February, the Dow Jones was above 12000 points, but by March the tide had turned and prices drifted downward the rest of the year. Nothing could cheer people enough to take prices higher. The reelection of Obama and the Democratic sweep of Congress had not helped. On the contrary, Wall Street was depressed after the elections. There are now bills pending in Congress that will force an increase of taxes on Chinese goods come the New Year. And this will surely cause a Chinese reaction and a trade war at the worst possible time. And to make things worse, oil prices had drifted upwards all year – Brent was now at $150/barrel (and WTI at $130).

Today, the Dow Jones was just above 10,000 points. For the first time in history, foreign traders have dumped their US stocks in their year-end ‘window dressing’ operations. Apparently, they no longer considered Dow Jones stocks as ‘good’ stocks to hold.

After the Bell
Right after the opening bell, share prices plummeted. Within the first hour, stock trading had to stop for 15 minutes because the Dow fell more than 10% below the average of the previous quarter (the trading curb, at approximately a 1000 points drop), triggering the automatic stop.  After trading resumed, the Dow reached 9000 points, and a whole series of stop-loss orders to sell stocks hit the exchange.  In contrast to previous crashes, investors were no longer rushing into Treasuries. They were in fact dumping US Treasuries almost as fast as they were dumping stocks. This meant that the effective interest rates on US debt rose from 3% to 5% in a couple of hours.

The US dollar suffered accordingly. It was at $1.60: 1 Euro by 1 pm. At 2 pm, there was concerted action by a number of Central Banks (most of them were limited in their response because their home markets were already closed by this time), which buoyed the dollar to $1.55: 1 Euro. It was the middle of the night in Asia, and the Fed was mainly alone in intervening to save the dollar.

The market dipped even lower by the close of trading, as a whole swath of put options were exercised (which involved the sale of a lot of stocks and currency); the Dow closed at ‘only’ 8500 points (it had gone below 8000 points during the day), and with the exchange rate at $1.60: 1 Euro. It was terrible, but everyone was sure that concerted Central Bank action scheduled for Monday will calm the markets.

It was not to be. Middle Eastern markets were opened on the 22nd and 23rd (Saturday and Sunday), and stocks and the US dollar continued their slide, reaching $1.70:1 Euro at the end of Sunday trading. In the morning of Monday, the Bank of Japan  intervened heavily to support the dollar; but by midday, it stopped. At the same time, the Peoples Bank of China started dumping dollars. This was followed by Russia, and then a host of Third World countries.

The ECB, the Bank of England, the US Fed and the Central Banks of Canada and Switzerland furiously bought dollars all day. Together they bought more than a trillion dollars on that day alone. It did not help. Middle Eastern, other Third World sovereign funds and many Third World Central Banks dumped their US$ bonds and stocks all day. The Euro remained at $1.70:1 Euro all day.

It was a gloomy Christmas in most US households, who saw their 401k balances evaporating, and who realized that the prices of goods will go up a lot in January.  On the 26th, ordinary Americans dumped their holdings in Dow Jones stocks, and bought Japanese and European mutual funds. Oil (WTI crude) hit $200/barrel, and gasoline rose to $6/gallon.  The US government announced that it was monitoring to see that no gas station will sell gasoline above that level. The government warned against price gouging by retailers, and issued an order that prices were to remain at the present levels for the meantime, unless explicit permission was given to raise an item. But this set off a stampede of people buying what they can while the prices were relatively cheap. By the end of the year, grocery stores reported that their stocks of food had been all sold out; panicky people were stocking up.

By the first trading days of the new year, the US dollar had gone to $1.90: 1 Euro, and it was steadily deteriorating. Interest rates on US treasuries hit 7%, and kept climbing. By 15 January, the US government formally called on the IMF for help. The US government could no longer finance its debt, with the interest rate on Treasuries at 9% and climbing. The IMF put together a rescue package of about 1 trillion SDRs. But this would only be given if the US reduces its deficit from $1.3 trillion yearly to only $100 billion in 2012. Obama then forwarded a budget proposal which specified: a 50% cut of defense spending, a tax on luxury houses, cars and yachts, a national Value Added Tax of 15% (and abolition of state sales taxes), etc.

The IMF declared that it was making the SDR the new international reserve currency, and that it would exchange dollars held by Central Banks at $2: 1 SDR. This provided a floor for the value of the US dollar, and stabilized the currency markets. For cash, people used the Euro or the Yen.  After the IMF action, the US dollar was removed as the reference currency for oil (which changed from dollars/barrel to Euros/hectoliter), gold (to Euros/gram) and other commodities.

(this is a depressing story, but it will actually end up well. In another blog, Two Years After the Fall    I show what would happen two years after the crash.)

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Two Years After the Fall

Posted by butalidnl on 10 March 2011

It is now March 13, 2014. America has undergone a huge shift in its economy in the last two years. On this day, in 2012, the dollar “fell” in value, by about 100%; and more importantly, it “fell” from its position as the world’s reserve economy.

The Dollar Falls
It all started in November 2011. Riots had broken out in Saudi Arabia, and the government was frantically trying to restore order. The Saudi government had bungled in its handling of a relatively small disturbance among Saudi Shiites in Qatif, in the Eastern province. In November 2011, the disturbance had escalated into a nationwide protest movement. By December, workers in the vital oil industry and in the ports had gone on strike. And the demands had hardened – where before they had merely asked for the release of arrested Shiite leaders, protesters had now gone on to demanding a Constitutional Monarchy, some even wanted a republic, while others were calling for the independence of the Eastern province. All of this caused the price of oil to go through the roof. By the end of December,  oil had reached $200/barrel.

To make matters worse, the US response to it was also wrong. Congress passed a new Stimulus Bill of $500 billion, and the Fed proclaimed QE4 – a program to pump $1 trillion into the economy, as a response to the new recession. Unlike what happened during the 2008 recession, however, the US was now alone in pursuing an expansionary policy. This caused a lot of misgivings in other countries regarding the value of the US dollar.

Oil producing countries responded by demanding that they be paid in “hard” currencies – e.g. Euro, Yen, even the Chinese Yuan – and NOT in US Dollars. By January 2012, Central Banks all over the world decided to cut the US dollar component of their reserves, by a modest 1/4. Thus, from an average of 80% of reserves in US dollars, to 60%. This seems to be a modest change in policy; but when it is done by ALL Central Banks at the same time, it had a devastating effect. This policy meant that the Central Banks would gradually replace their dollars with other currencies in the course of a number of months, eventually ending with the target percentage of US dollars in reserve. By the end of February, however, the value of the US Dollar had gone down to the point where Central Banks holding lots of dollars (mostly in the form of US Treasury Notes) became nervous. They stood to lose a lot, if the dollar lost value.

So, it finally came on Tuesday, March 13, 2012. The Saudis were the first to dump their US dollar holdings. This was followed by Russia, Japan, and then China. After this, everybody else dumped their dollar holdings. You could probably speak of an “oversold” situation with the dollar then, but Central Bankers didn’t care anymore – they just wanted out, as quickly as possible.  As a result of all this, the dollar sunk to $4: 1 Euro on March 16, 2012. In the months following, the dollar regained some strength, finally stabilizing at $3:1Euro by December 2012.

Picking up the Pieces
The US was left to pick up the pieces. It still had a big budget deficit, and a huge payments deficit, and a 16 trillion national debt. The only good news in all this was that the national debt remained at 16 trillion dollars, even though the dollar was half its former value (thus, effectively the national debt was reduced by half).

The US had to go to the IMF to borrow money to finance its budget deficit. Nobody else was willing to lend the US money at that time. The US got a 500 billion SDR loan from the IMF (roughly equivalent to $500 billion at the old exchange rate). But the IMF loan came at a price: the US government had to cut spending, and increase taxes, and it had to have a concrete program to balance the budget by 2015. The US also had to open up its economy to foreign investments (thus, the airline, oil, banking etc. industries were opened to 100% foreign ownership).

Recovery
The IMF conditions were tough, but now, 2 years after the fall, the economy is on its way to recovery. US labor costs had dropped in relation to the rest of the world (while the US dollar’s value was halved, prices rose 30% and wages rose only 10%). This has led to a huge expansion in US-based manufacturing of products which used to be imported from China. (Another large chunk of the production had gone to Mexico, from which it is cheaper to ship to the US.) Automobile production has greatly expanded, with so many people buying smaller cars, hybrids and EVs (Electric Vehicles). And there is now a huge demand for buses, as local governments expand their public transportation services.

Tourism is now booming, with Asians and Europeans making the most of  “cheap” US vacations – tourism revenues have quadrupled since 2012. There is also a surge of “medical tourism”, with Europeans and Asians coming for elective surgery (which are not covered by their country’s health insurance).

American university enrollment has surged; while the number of American students has lessened, foreign students have more than made up the loss. Foreigners find that the US is offering quality education at bargain prices. And while foreign graduates are now in demand in the US, a bigger percentage of them opt to work in their home countries about graduation.

The stock market is enjoying a bull market of sorts – the Dow Jones just topped 20,000 points last January. Some companies are having a hard time: Walmart’s sales suffered as a result both of the lower purchasing capacity of people and the higher prices of goods. It is now repositioning stores to city centers, since people now find their suburban locations “too far away” (due to high gasoline costs). Starbucks has suffered because people have decided en masse that Starbuck’s coffee is a “luxury that they could live without”. Airlines are suffering from people cutting back on air travel.

But more companies are thriving: McDonalds has noted an increase in sales, even in the face of 30% higher prices; Amazon has seen a boom in the sale of Kindles and e-books (paper prices have also spiked); IT companies are profiting from people spending more time at home (people are also working more from home).

People have developed new habits. The magnetron is still all important; what’s new is that companies are now selling magnetron meals in reusable containers. Children often go to school now on bikes (leading to a reduction in child obesity). People are consuming more (local) vegetables, and eating less meat.

Many more people are employed than at any time in the past few decades. The unemployment rate is now at 5%, and is still dropping. There are less illegal Latinos now, since many Mexicans now prefer to work in the new Mexican factories. Americans are now more willing to take on farm jobs that were formerly done by Latino migrants. There is a marked reduction in the drug trade, with lower US buying power and prosperous Mexican workers.

There are now plans to build a nationwide rapid rail network. Ordinary rail lines are more intensively used for carrying products (replacing trucks), and a lot more products are transported by water. Solar farms are being set up in the Southwest; in Hawaii, the government is feverishly building solar and wind power plants (Hawaii was the worst hit by the oil price rise).

The “fall” of the dollar has caused a lot of suffering in America. But the American people are not only adapting well to the change, they are actually thriving. The resilience and hard work of the American people is now showing that a new economy could be fairer, greener, more equal, and eventually, more prosperous.

Some people say that the “fall” may have been the best thing to happen to America. They’re probably right. The future indeed looks quite bright.

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