The dollar has had a huge effect on the stock market's moves this year. As the dollar has depreciated, many stocks have climbed higher; the logic is that a weaker dollar will boost the bottom lines of companies such as McDonald's
As we approach 2010, what is the future of the dollar, and what are the implications for the asset prices that move inversely to it? What does it all mean when it comes to rebalancing the global economy and our economic relationship with China?
For some insight on all this, I spoke with the man who had the foresight to call the financial meltdown in 2006: Peter Schiff, president and chief global strategist of Euro Pacific Capital and author of the newly updated book Crash Proof 2.0.
Schiff believes the dollar is on a long-term downward trajectory, and that it could collapse if the government continues its current policies. That has implications for the stock market and gold, which he thinks could go to $5,000 an ounce.
Here's an edited transcript of our conversation:
Jennifer Schonberger: You've been bearish on the dollar for some time. Do you still stand by your bearish call for the greenback?
Peter Schiff: Yes. I think the dollar is going to fall for years. It's not going to fall every day, or every week. There are going to be periods of time where the dollar rallies -- that's how markets work. Like a bull market climbs a wall of worry, a bear market follows a slope of hope. And there's always going to be hope that the dollar is going to recover, based on "maybe the Fed will raise interest rates," "maybe the U.S. economy will improve." But none of that is going to help the dollar. I think the dollar's fate has been sealed by the policies being pursued by the government and the Federal Reserve, and unfortunately it's a grim fate.
Schonberger: If the dollar does remain weak, as you expect, what are the implications in terms of rebalancing the global economy?
Schiff: Part of rebalancing the global economy is going to necessitate a lower dollar. The reason the global economy is so out of balance is because the dollar is artificially strong. It's been propped up by foreign central banks, and this enables Americans to import products they really can't afford. So if we want the global imbalances to be solved, it's going to require a lower dollar -- and that's what's going to happen. The longer foreign central banks artificially prop up the dollar, enabling Americans to keep spending borrowed money, the worse the global imbalances are going to get.
Schonberger: You recently wrote, "While [China's] peg [to the U.S. dollar] certainly is responsible for much of the world's problems, its abandonment would cause severe hardship in the United States." Why?
Schiff: It would cause hardship in the U.S., but it's something that we have to deal with sooner rather than later. By propping up the U.S. dollar and by carrying U.S.-dollar-denominated debt -- U.S. Treasuries, mortgage-backed securities -- the Chinese have kept interest rates and consumer prices artificially low. Americans have been able to benefit from that in the short run because their mortgages, car payments, and credit card payments are lower. They can go to stores like Wal-Mart
When the Chinese government removes all those subsidies, there's going to be an immediate benefit to the Chinese people, because they're suddenly going to see lower prices and more access to capital. In America, we're going to have the rug pulled out from under us ...
Schonberger: The dollar is central to the relationships of other assets' prices. There is an inverse relationship between the dollar and equities. Do you expect that linkage (between the dollar and equities) to continue into next year?
Schiff: Remember, there's an inverse relationship between the dollar and the price of everything, because as the dollar loses value, you need more dollars to buy anything. That's true for an ounce of gold, a barrel of oil, a bushel of wheat, or shares of stock. So you're always going to see prices rising as the dollar is falling. That's what's happening now.
Now at some point, inflation could be so problematic that it drives interest rates up substantially, and as inflation gets bigger and bigger, the prices that tend to react more quickly will be things like food and energy. So if U.S. corporations suddenly see the cost of their long-term debt or short-term debt jump up and their customers don't have any money to buy their products because they're spending all their money on food, then ultimately you could see falling stock prices as the dollar is falling.
Schonberger: Speaking of relationships, you expect gold to go to $5,000 an ounce, correct?
Schiff: Yeah. It could go higher than that, but I think $5,000 is a reasonable expectation of where gold is headed over the course of the next several years, based on monetary and fiscal policy that is in place. Now if the government were to reverse course -- if they suddenly brought the budget into surplus, and if the Fed aggressively raised interest rates back up to a reasonable level, say 5%, 6%, or 7%, not just a quarter-point every few months -- then gold would probably not get to $5,000.
But I don't think they're going to do that. Based on what the Fed is saying and doing, they're going to keep interest rates at practically nothing for as far as the eye can see. The U.S. economy is not recovering. All we're doing is spending stimulus money. The minute you take away the stimulus, all the GDP growth, all the jobs that are associated with that stimulus spending, will vanish. So they can't take the stimulus away without destroying the phony recovery. So if interest rates are going to stay low and they're going to keep printing money, the only thing that's going to happen is the dollar is going to fall until it all of a sudden collapses ...
Schonberger: So then you're actually calling for a collapse in the dollar relatively soon?
Schiff: Relatively soon, yes. Maybe not tomorrow, but I think it will happen soon. I think it will happen before Barack Obama leaves office even if he's only a one-termer. The first initial collapse in the dollar will be about a 50%, 60%, or 70% decline in dollar value. That collapse will usher in the new leg -- the much more severe leg of our economic downturn. Not only will we have a financial crisis, but we'll also have a currency and economic crisis.
Hopefully that will be the tough medicine, the shock that finally causes Congress and the Fed to abandon its current policy and start doing the right thing. If it doesn't -- if they respond to that big drop in the dollar by creating more inflation, and if they fail to raise interest rates aggressively and withdraw liquidity -- then they will turn the dollar into confetti. Then we will have hyperinflation. If we go down that road, gold prices aren't just going to $5,000, they'll go to $50,000, or $500,000. I hope that cooler heads will prevail before we go down that road, but from this point that's still a possibility if we don't change policies.
Strong words from Peter Schiff. Share your own in the comments section below.
Fool contributor Jennifer Schonberger does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned in this article. AFLAC is a Stock Advisor recommendation. Coke and Wal-Mart are Inside Value picks. Coke is also an Income Investor recommendation. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.