Is This Time Different for the Dollar?

The recent correction in precious metals and miners has led some investors to question whether they missed the ultimate top in the bull market for gold and silver. Conversely, this would lead to the question of whether the dollar and other fiat currencies have bottomed.

According to a study of 775 fiat currencies by DollarDaze.org, there is no historical precedence for a fiat currency that has succeeded in holding its value. Twenty percent failed through hyperinflation, 21% were destroyed by war, 12% destroyed by independence, 24% were monetarily reformed, and 23% are still in circulation approaching one of the other outcomes.

The average life expectancy for a fiat currency is 27 years, with the shortest life span being one month. Founded in 1694, the British pound Sterling is the oldest fiat currency in existence. At a ripe old age of 317 years it must be considered a highly successful fiat currency. However, success is relative. The British pound was defined as 12 ounces of silver, so it's worth less than 1/200 or 0.5% of its original value. In other words, the most successful long standing currency in existence has lost 99.5% of its value.

Given the undeniable track record of currencies, it is clear that on a long enough timeline the survival rate of all fiat currencies drops to zero. Fiat currency bulls will probably not argue with this fact, but the remaining argument to hold fiat cash is that the decline of fiat currencies is manageable to such an extent that the loss in purchasing power will have a minimal or unnoticeable impact. The purchasing power of the British pound has eroded by a seemingly manageable 3% average annual rate.

The US dollar was taken off of the gold standard in 1971 when it was 1/35th an ounce of gold. At 40 years old, it has already lost 97% of its value. Yet it has lasted longer than the average fiat currency so perhaps its performance should be labeled "better than expected". The US dollar has fallen by an average 9% annually over this 40 year period when measured against gold. As such, investment advisers may want to readjust their inflation expectations when projecting dollar based investments. The S&P 500 appreciated at 7% over the same 40 year period - not even keeping pace with the decline in purchasing power of the dollar.

Gold and silver have outperformed the S&P 500 and held their purchasing power since the inception of the US dollar fiat currency. Despite this excellent track record, the question remains as to whether this trend will continue. While investors can be confident that over a lifetime, precious metals will hold their value most are wary of volatility in the markets that may take gold and silver years to recover from. The obvious example of this is the commodity bear market that began in 1980 with gold peaking at $800 and falling to $250. This leads to the only remaining argument against precious metals investing based on the premise that currency flaws can be prolonged into the future:

Yes, the dollar will continue to lose substantial purchasing power and is terribly flawed. However it will bounce for several years through austerity measures and in the process push precious metals prices lower for an interim period. After all, currencies have bounced as they stair step lower over the years.

In order for such an event to occur Federal budgets would have to be reduced by $1 trillion annually and Paul Volcker, or a new version of him, would have to raise nominal interest rates above inflation rates such that real interest rates are positive by multiple percentage points. In 1981, federal funds rates exceeded 19%. Since the US dollar and economy is much further along its terminal decline it would take even more extreme action to create a recovery for the dollar. Considering that Volcker has resigned from being an economic adviser to the White House, and that the federal funds rates are flat lined at zero, the odds of any such action are astronomical. The financial industry and economy clearly could not sustain such an interest rate shock today. Any rise in interest rates would exponentially increase US debt carrying obligations pushing it even further into insolvency and have the reverse effect on the currency by devaluing it at an even faster pace. Europe is a living example of this.

The implication from the above is that the worst case scenario for gold and silver would be a two to five year correction followed by even higher prices. The fiat currency decline will become increasing pronounced until a resolution event occurs such as a replacement of the dollar or reinstatement of an asset backed currency.

Is this time different? We don't think so.

Chris Mack is president of Trade Placer. He can be contacted at info@tradeplacer.com.

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