Waiting on the FOMC meeting...
Daily Pfennig

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In This Issue..

* FOMC to cut further...

* Bernanke turns his back on inflation...

* Kiwi and Australia rally...

* Gold continues to shine...

And Now... Today's Pfennig!

Waiting on the FOMC meeting...

Good day...and welcome to another week, hopefully the currency markets can continue their assault on the dollar which began a few weeks ago. The dollar index peaked back on November 21, and with the exception of a few days around the beginning of December, the greenback has consistently fallen vs. most of the major currencies. Friday was no exception, and the dollar continued to give back gains over the weekend with the Euro climbing back over $1.35 for the first time in two months.

This morning the markets are focusing on the Fed's Open Market Committee meeting and rate announcement which will come tomorrow. It is widely expected that Bernanke and his compatriots will push US interest rates close to just 0.5%, the lowest on records dating back to July 1954. From everything I've read over the weekend, this 50 basis point cut is pretty much a done deal, and currency traders are actually more interested in what the Fed's statement will say about 'alternative easing measures'. The rate announcement will come tomorrow at around 2:15 pm EST after a two day meeting. The FOMC meeting had originally been scheduled for just one day, but was extended so policy makers could study options for unusual steps to spur the economy. I guess they finally figured out that they are running out of room with the interest rate cuts!

The Feds newest weapon against the falling economy is 'quantitative easing', which the Bank of Japan used in the 1990's. This non-traditional method of easing centers around pumping money back into the financial markets as quickly as possible. The Fed has already started down this path by allowing its balance sheet to more than double in size after pumping over $1 trillion into financial markets. The markets are now expecting the Fed to announce it will start purchasing private sector mortgages to drive down home loan costs. By purchasing these bonds, the Fed would narrow the spread between their yields and yields on US Treasuries, and theoretically allowing banks to offer home loans at lower rates.

But the Fed has already pumped trillions into the banks in an effort to get them to start lending, so I'm not sure having the Fed narrow mortgage spreads will get these same banks to open up their lending windows. And even if the banks lower mortgage rates, they won't be lowering credit standards. Unemployment continues to rocket upward as more and more firms lay off workers. Do you think these banks are going to be willing to refinance someone who has just lost their job?

And what will be the long term impact of all of this 'quantitative easing'? The Fed is mashing on the money supply accelerator, totally ignoring the inflationary results which all of this will bring down the road. Ben Bernanke is smart enough to know the risks of the path he is speeding down, but right now he is choosing to ignore the consequences in an attempt to keep the economy from falling off the abyss. Some at the Fed believe they will be able to pull all of this added liquidity back out of the markets as soon as the economy starts to recover. But this is a very difficult thing to do, as the Fed would have to start pulling liquidity and increasing rates just as the economy is starting to turn. I think it is pretty obvious the 'experts' have a tough time calling the turning points, as it took them almost a year to call the recession!! And the consequence of missing the timing on pulling the liquidity back out of the market is much more drastic than mistiming the entry into the recession. Hyperinflation is waiting on the other side of this short term deflationary pause, and the Fed is currently looking the other way.

This weekend, President Bush announced that he is thinking about spending some of the TARP money which was set aside to stabilize the financial system to bail out the auto industry. This announcement caused a further sell off of the dollar as it is quickly losing its status as a safe-haven currency. Chuck was busy this weekend, but still found time to send me his thoughts:

"Well... We went to cut down our tree today, then watched Alex's basketball team get smoked! Put the tree up in a spiffy, with one of the greatest inventions of man kind, the swivel stand... And now I'm off to tell you what I've read about this weekend...

First though... A quote from Ronald Reagan... "The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help"

OK, with that in mind, I wanted to discuss the bailout for the automakers, GM and Chrysler.

First of all, I know it will be tough for the autoworkers should they be laid off, especially at this time of the year. But, the problem here is the fact that the automakers have run their respective companies very badly, and now they expect the taxpayer to bail them out.

It was reported on Friday that the Gov't is "looking into" using TARP money for the automakers bailout since the Senate voted "no" to the $14 Billion plan.

First of all... Congress said nothing about helping carmakers, or any other non-financial business, in October when it authorized the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. But yet, it is being discussed as the "funding source of funds"...

That fund was never designed to rescue manufacturing companies with long-term operational issues. It was designed to shore up confidence in the banking system in order to thaw the world's credit markets.

Our own David Nicklaus of the St. Louis Post Dispatch has this to say, which makes a whole lot of sense to me! "The Detroit Three have been losing market share for decades, and their bloated cost structure makes it difficult for them to turn a profit even in good times. They have too much debt, too many models, too many dealers and, sad to say, too many workers.

Congress seemed to view an auto bailout as a jobs program, and TARP is nothing of the sort. In fact, the Treasury has invested in Bank of America, which is eliminating 35,000 jobs, and Citigroup, which is slashing 52,000.

The Treasury program, as it's been used so far, at least lacks one of the worst features of the failed auto bill. Nothing in the TARP legislation allows the government to name a car czar."

Yes, a Car Czar... Those Czars worked out well for the Russians, eh?

But the thing that really gets my blood boiling folks, is the fact that if bailout had gone through with the Car Czar, it would have been one more nail in the free markets / business coffin, just another opportunity for those that want to run the country toward the socialist side of the ledger..."

That is one of the things I love about Chuck, you don't ever have to wonder where he stands on something!

As I started to say before I went off on my FOMC tangent, the dollar continued to give back ground vs. just about all of the major currencies over the weekend. The Euro was up over 1.2% vs. the dollar, and broke through the $1.35 handle. The only two currencies which sold off over the weekend were the South African rand and Brazilian real, which were down just slightly. In addition to the FOMC meeting and announcement, we will get the TIC flows, Empire manufacturing number, Industrial Production, and Capacity Utilization numbers today. Tomorrow will bring the CPI numbers along with housing starts, building permits, and ABC Consumer confidence. Wednesday will be a light data day with just the Current Account Balance reported, and Thursday will close out the data with the weekly jobs numbers along with Leading indicators.

The Australian and New Zealand dollars rose on speculation the FOMC will be cutting US interest rates. These two currencies will benefit from their higher rates with the US cutting rates to near zero. The currency markets have started to move back toward trading on fundamentals over the past few weeks, and interest rate differentials are one fundamental which favors the NZD and AUD. If the Fed's statement makes it known that interest rates will remain low for a long time, the dollar would likely fall further vs. the Aussie dollar, as the RBA has signaled that it is close to the end of its rate cutting cycle. Benchmark rates are nearly 400 basis points higher in Australia and New Zealand when compared with the same rates here in the US.

In a break with the recent trading pattern, the Japanese yen rallied along with the New Zealand and Australian dollars. A former Deputy Governor of the BOJ said Japan is probably not going to lower rates further; "with the interest rate already so low, a further reduction would have only limited impact." The central bank's Tankan survey today showed confidence among large manufacturers fell the most in 34 years as a deepening global financial crisis crimped export demand, forcing companies to pare production and fire workers. The yen's recent surge to a 13 year high has compounded woes for manufacturers.

Gold continued to rise over the weekend, pushing back up to an eight week high in London. The dollar's fall has spurred investors to move back into gold as an alternative investment. News that President Bush was looking to tap the bank bailout fund to keep GM and Chrysler out of bankruptcy spurred further purchases of gold. With the tremendous growth in the US money supply, and the FOMC turning their back on inflation concerns, precious metals should continue to gain ground. Gold is traditionally one of the best hedges against rising inflation.

Currencies today 12/15/08: A$ .6635, kiwi .5523, C$ .8138, euro 1.3473, sterling 1.4969, Swiss .8534, ISK 218, rand 10.1985 krone 6.9051, SEK 7.9963, forint 197.97, zloty 2.9644, koruna 19.428, yen 90.79, baht 34.88, sing 1.4773, HKD 7.75, INR 48.0512, China 6.85, pesos 13.5138, BRL 2.387, dollar index 83.15, Oil $48.52, Silver $10.36, and Gold... $827.60

That's it for today... The roads were a bit icy this morning, as we got a small taste of the ice storm which hit the Eastern states so hard over the weekend. But my drive into work was fantastic, as the 6 mile stretch of interstate running from my home to the office was reopened over the weekend. Some of the schools are closed this morning, so we will be shorthanded on the desk. Better get to work, hope everyone has a Marvelous Monday!!

Chris Gaffney, CFA

Vice President

EverBank World Markets



Posted 12-15-2008 9:11 AM by Chuck Butler