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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Futurology

Continuing the argument about sovereign wealth funds, what might this portend for US Treasury securities?

If foreign governments pull the rug out, there could be a run on the dollar on a scale that the US government wouldn't dare correct with proportionately high interest rates, seeing how indebted everyone is. The doomsters are probably right that it could happen, which is why everybody will make sure it doesn't.

And such a fall wouldn't be in the interest of creditor nations who still value the trade surpluses they enjoy with Uncle Sam. Many Chinese light manufacturing industries are working on narrow margins and don't want to see their profits disappear through foreign exchange movements (though their State is sufficiently powerful and ruthless to go that way if it wants to). I suspect that China will continue to develop towards heavier industries and gradually allow the trainer-stitching work to go to even poorer countries like Vietnam. Meanwhile, it's in no hurry to kill the US cow while she's still giving milk.

So here's my bet:
  1. For domestic political reasons, the US will not do what is needed to get the economy back on the level. It will continue to borrow but, fearful of its vulnerability to potentially unfriendly foreigners, lean on its friends for more finance.
  2. The US Treasury securities held by China will remain much the same, or even gradually increase in dollar terms, but "ally nations" will increase their holdings proportionately faster. There's not much an emotionally or politically vulnerable British PM won't do for a pat on the back at G8 summits, Bilderberg tie-looseners etc. Goodness knows how much of our future has been sacrificed to the last one's ego.
  3. Creditor nations will increase their sovereign wealth funds, favouring investments that are involved in the supply lines from their manufacturing concerns to our end purchasers. Marxism has moved on: you have to have control of the means of production, but even more so of the means of distribution.
  4. They will also invest in the lines leading towards their industries: energy, industrial metals and infrastructure. I also guess China will explore healthcare, energy-efficiency, food-oriented genetic research and environmental protection. And water. And foreign farmland (Bill Bonner and Marc Faber are really smart). City planning in all its aspects could become really important.
  5. If these countries were private investors, we'd be seeing their portfolios alter their balance between bonds and equities, in the direction of higher risk, higher returns. And like good long-term investors, they will get richer. Maybe eventually, as James Kynge says, demographics and healthcare will eat into this wealth, but it's not going to benefit the West much either way.
  6. In the US and the UK, our collective concern will be how to handle the social disruption in our own societies; our concern as individuals will be how to save and invest while we still can, and how to set up our own children in relative security.

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