Today by far the deadliest weapon of mass destruction in Washington’s arsenal lies not with the Pentagon or its traditional killing machines. It’s de facto a silent weapon: the ability of Washington to control the global supply of money, of dollars, through actions of the privately-owned Federal Reserve in coordination with the US Treasury and select Wall Street financial groups.
Developed over a period of decades since the decoupling of the dollar from gold by Nixon in August, 1971, today control of the dollar is a financial weapon that few if any rival nations are prepared to withstand, at least not yet.
Ten years ago, in September, 2008, US Treasury Secretary, former Wall Street banker Henry Paulson, deliberately pulled the plug on the global dollar system by allowing the mid-sized Wall Street investment bank, Lehman Bros go under.
At that point, with aid of the infinite money-creating resources of the Fed known as Quantitative Easing, the half-dozen top banks of Wall Street, including Paulson’s own Goldman Sachs, were rescued from a debacle their exotic securitized finance created.
The Fed also acted to give unprecedented hundreds of billions of US dollar credit lines to EU central banks to avert a dollar shortage that would clearly have brought the entire global financial architecture crashing down. At the time six Eurozone banks had dollar liabilities in excess of 100% of their country GDP.
A World Full of Dollars
Since that time a decade ago, the supply of cheap dollars to the global financial system has risen to unprecedented levels. The Institute for International Finance in Washington estimates the debt of households, governments, corporations and the financial sector in the 30 largest emerging markets rose to 211% of gross domestic product at the start of this year. It was 143% at the end of 2008.
Further data from the Washington IIF indicate the scale of a debt trap that is only in early stages of detonating across the less-advanced economies from Latin America to Turkey to Asia. Excluding China, emerging market total debt, in all currencies including domestic, has nearly doubled from 15 trillion dollars in 2007 to 27 trillion dollars at end of 2017. China debt in the same time went from 6 trillion dollars to 36 trillion dollars according to IIF.
For the group of Emerging Market countries, their debts denominated in US dollars has grown to some 6.4 trillion dollars from 2.8 trillion dollars in 2007. Turkish companies now owe almost 300 billion dollars in foreign-denominated debt, over half its GDP, most in dollars. Emerging markets preferred the dollar for many reasons.
As long as those emerging economies were growing, earning export dollars at a rising rate, the debt was manageable. Now all that’s beginning to change. The agent of that change is the world’s most political central bank, the US Federal Reserve, whose new chairman, Jerome Powell, is a former partner of the spooky Carlyle Group.
Arguing that the domestic US economy is strong enough that they can return US dollar interest rates to “normal,” the Fed has begun a titanic shift in dollar liquidity to the world economy. Powell and the Fed know very well what they are doing. They are ratcheting up the dollar screws to precipitate a major new economic crisis across the emerging world, most especially from key Eurasian economies such as Iran, Turkey, Russia and China.
Despite all efforts of Russia, China, Iran and other countries to shift away from US dollar dependence for international trade and finance, the dollar remains still unchallenged as world central bank reserve currency, some 63% of all BIS central bank reserves. Moreover almost 88% of daily foreign currency trades are in US dollars. Most all oil trade, gold and commodity trades are denominated in dollars. Since the Greek crisis in 2011 the Euro has not been a serious rival for reserve currency hegemony. Its share in reserves are about 20% today.
Since the 2008 financial crisis the dollar and the importance of the Fed have expanded to unprecedented levels. This is only now beginning to be appreciated as the world begins to feel for the first time since 2008 real dollar shortages, meaning a much higher cost to borrow more dollars to refinance old dollar debt. The peak for total emerging market dollar debt falling due comes in 2019, with more than 1.3 trillion dollars maturing.
Here comes the trap. The Fed is not only hinting it will raise US Fed funds rates more aggressively later this year into next. It is also reducing the amount of US Treasury debt it bought after the 2008 crisis, so-called QT or Quantitative Tightening.
From QE to QT…
After 2008 the Fed began what was called Quantitative Easing. The Fedbought a staggering sum of bonds from the banks up to a peak of 4.5 trillion dollars from only 900 billion dollars at the start of the crisis. Now the Fed announces it plans to reduce that by at least one third in coming months.
The result of QE was that the major banks behind the 2008 financial crisis were flooded with liquidity from the Fed and interest rates plunged to zero. That bank liquidity was in turn invested in any part of the world offering higher returns as US bonds paid near zero interest. It went into junk bonds in the shale oil sector, into a new US housing mini boom.
Most markedly the liquid dollars went into higher-risk emerging markets like Turkey, Brazil, Argentina, Indonesia, India. Dollars flooded into China where the economy was booming. And the dollars poured into Russia before US sanctions earlier this year began to put a chill on foreign investors.
Now the Fed has begun QT – Quantitative Tightening – the reverse of QE. Late 2017 the Fed slowly began to shrink its bond holdings which reduces dollar liquidity in the banking system. In late 2014 the Fed already stopped buying new bonds from the market. The reduction of the bond holdings of the Fed in turn pushed interest rates higher.
Until this summer, it was all “gently, gently.” Then the US President launched a global targeted trade war offensive, creating huge uncertainty in China, Latin America, Turkey and beyond, and new economic sanctions on Russia and Iran.
Today the Fed is allowing 40 billion dollars of its Treasury and corporate bonds mature without replacing them, rising to 50 billion dollars monthly later this year. That takes those dollars out of the banking system. In addition, to aggravate what is quickly becoming a full-blown dollar shortage, the Trump tax cut law is adding hundreds of billions to the deficit that the US Treasury will have to finance by issuing new bond debt.
As the supply of US Treasury debt rises, the Treasury will be forced to pay higher interest to sell those bonds. Higher US interest rates already are acting as a magnet to suck dollars back into the US from around the world.
Adding to the global tightening, under pressure from the dominance of the Fed and the dollar, the Bank of Japan and the European Central Bank have been forced to announce they would no longer buy bonds in their respective QE actions. Since March, the world has de facto been in the new era of QT.
From here it looks to get dramatic unless the Federal Reserve does an about face and resumes with a new QE liquidity operation to avoid a global systemic crisis. At this juncture that looks unlikely. Today the world central banks more than even before 2008, dance to the tune played by the Federal Reserve. As Henry Kissinger allegedly stated in the 1970’s “If you control the money, you control the world.”
A 2019 New Global Crisis?
While so far the impact of dollar contraction has been gradual, it’s about to get dramatic. The combined G-3 central banks’ balance sheet increased by a mere 76 billion dollars in the first half of 2018, compared with a 703 billion dollars rise in the prior six months – almost half a trillion of dollars gone from the global lending pool. Bloomberg estimates that net asset purchases by the three main central banks will fall to zero by the end of this year, from close to 100 billion dollars a month at the end of 2017. Annually that translates into an equivalent 1.2 trillion dollars less of dollar liquidity in 2019 in the world.
The Turkish Lira has dropped by half since early this year in relation to the US dollar. That means Turkish large construction companies and others who were able to borrow “cheap” dollars, now must find double the sum of US dollars to service those debts.The debt is not state Turkish debt for the most part but private corporate borrowing.
Turkish companies owe an estimated 300 billion dollars in foreign currency debt, most dollars, almost half the entire GDP of the country. That dollar liquidity has kept the Turkish economy growing since the 2008 US financial crisis. Not only the Turkish economy…Asian countries from Pakistan to South Korea, minus China, have borrowed an estimated 2.1 trillion dollars.
As long as the dollar depreciated against those currencies and the Fed kept interest rates low – as from 2008 – 2015, there was little problem. Now that’s all changing and dramatically so. The dollar is rising strongly against all other currencies, 7% this year. Combined with this, Washington is deliberately initiating trade wars, political provocations, unilateral breaking of the Iran treaty, new sanctions on Russia, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, and unprecedented provocations against China. Trump’s trade wars, ironically, have led to a “flight to safety” out of emerging countries like Turkey or China to the US markets, most notably the stock market.
The Fed is weaponizing the US dollar and the preconditions are in many ways similar to that during the 1997 Asia crisis. Then all it needed was a concerted US hedge fund attack on the weakest Asian Tier economy, the Thai Baht to trigger collapse across most of South Asia to South Korea and even Hong Kong. Today the trigger is Trump and his bellicose tweets against Erdogan.
The US Trump trade wars, political sanctions and new tax laws, in the context of the clear Fed strategy of dollar tightening, provide the backdrop to wage a dollar war against key political opponents globally without ever having to declare war. All it took was a series of trade provocations against the huge China economy, political provocations against the Turkish government, new groundless sanctions against Russia, and banks from Paris to Milan to Frankfurt to New York and anyone else with dollar loans to higher risk emerging markets began the rush for the exit.
The Lira collapses as a result of near panic selling, or the Iran currency crisis, the fall of the Russian ruble. All reflects the beginning, as likely does the decline in the China Renminbi, of a global dollar shortage.
If Washington succeeds on November 4 in cutting all Iran oil exports, world (dollar) oil prices could soar above 100 dollars, adding dramatically to the developing world dollar shortage. This is war by other means. The Fed dollar strategy is acting now as a “silent weapon” for not so quiet wars.
If it continues it could deal a serious setback to the growing independence of Eurasian countries around the China New Silk Road and the Russia-China-Iran alternative to the dollar system. The role of the dollar as lead global reserve currency and the ability of the Federal Reserve to control it, is a weapon of massive destruction and a strategic pillar of American superpower control.
Are the nations of Eurasia or even the ECB ready to deal effectively?
William Engdahl is strategic risk consultant and lecturer, he holds a degree in politics from Princeton University and is a best-selling author on oil and geopolitics, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”where this article was originally published. He is a frequent contributor to Global Research.
Top 5 countries opting to ditch US dollar & the reasons behind their move
The past year was full of events that inevitably split the global geopolitical space into two camps: those who still support using US currency as a universal financial tool, and those who are turning their back on the greenback.
Global tensions caused by economic sanctions and trade conflicts triggered by Washington have forced targeted countries to take a fresh look at alternative payment systems currently dominated by the US dollar.
The ongoing trade conflict between the United States and China, as well as sanctions against Beijing’s biggest trading partners have forced China to take steps towards relieving the dollar dependence of the world’s second-largest economy.
In Beijing’s signature soft-power style, the government hasn’t made any loud announcements on the issue. However, the People’s Bank of China has been regularly reducing the country’s share of US Treasuries. Still the number-one foreign holder of the US sovereign debt, China has cut its share to the lowest level since May 2017.
Moreover, instead of promptly dumping the greenback, China is trying to internationalize its own currency, the yuan, which was included in the IMF basket alongside the US dollar, the Japanese yen, the euro, and the British pound. Beijing has recently made several steps towards strengthening the yuan, including accumulating gold reserves, launching yuan-priced crude futures, and using the currency in trade with international partners.
As part of its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, China is planning to introduce swap facilities in participating countries to promote the use of the yuan. Moreover, the country is actively pushing for a free-trade agreement called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which will include the countries of Southeast Asia. The trade pact could easily replace the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the proposed multi-national trade deal which was torn up by US President Donald Trump shortly after he took office. RCEP includes 16 country signatories and the potential pact is expected to form a union of nearly 3.4 billion people based on a combined $49.5 trillion economy, which accounts for nearly 40 percent of the world’s GDP.
Ranked the world’s sixth-largest economy, India is one of the biggest merchandise importers. It’s not surprising that the country is directly affected by most global geopolitical conflicts and is significantly impacted by sanctions applied to its trading partners.
Earlier this year, Delhi switched to ruble payments on supplies of Russian S-400 air-defense systems as a result of US economic penalties introduced against Moscow. The country also had to switch to the rupee in purchases of Iranian crude after Washington reinstituted sanctions against Tehran. In December, India and the United Arab Emirates sealed a currency-swap agreement to boost trade and investment without the involvement of a third currency.
Taking into account that India is the third-largest country by purchasing power parity, steps of this kind could considerably diminish the role of the greenback in global trading.
Earlier this year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced plans to end the US dollar monopoly via a new policy that is aimed at non-dollar trading with the country’s international partners. Later, Turkey’s leader announced that Ankara is preparing to conduct trade through national currencies with China, Russia and Ukraine. Turkey also discussed a possible replacement of the US dollar with national currencies in trade transactions with Iran.
The move was prompted by political and economic reasons. Relations between Ankara and Washington have been deteriorating since the failed military coup in the country to oust President Erdogan in 2016. It’s been reported that Erdogan suspects US involvement in the uprising and accuses Washington of harboring exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for masterminding the coup.
The Turkish economy sank after Washington introduced economic sanctions over the arrest of US evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson on terrorism charges in relation to the uprising.
Erdogan has repeatedly slammed Washington for unleashing a global trade war, sanctioning Turkey and trying to isolate Iran. The NATO member’s decision to buy Russian S-400 missile systems added fuel to the fire.
Moreover, Turkey is trying to ditch the dollar in an attempt to support its national currency. The lira has lost nearly half of its value against the greenback over the past year. The currency plunge was exacerbated by soaring inflation and increasing prices for goods and services.
A triumphant return of Iran to the global trading arena did not last long. Shortly after winning the US presidential election, Donald Trump opted to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal signed between Tehran and a group of nations, including the UK, US, France, Germany, Russia, China, and the EU.
The oil-rich nation has once again become a target for severe sanctions resumed by Washington, which has also threatened to introduce penalties against any countries that would violate the embargo. The punitive measures banned business deals with the Islamic Republic and cracked down on the country’s oil industry.
Sanctions have forced Tehran to look for alternatives to the US dollar as payment for its oil exports. Iran clinched a deal for oil settlements with India using the Indian rupee. It also negotiated a barter deal with neighboring Iraq. The partners are also planning to use the Iraqi dinar for mutual transactions to reduce reliance on the US dollar amid banking problems connected to US sanctions.
President Vladimir Putin said the US is “making a colossal strategic mistake” by “undermining confidence in the dollar.” Putin has never called for restricting dollar transactions or banning the use of US currency. However, Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said earlier this year that the country had to dump its holdings of US Treasuries in favor of more secure assets, such as the ruble, the euro, and precious metals.
The country has already taken several steps towards de-dollarizing the economy due to the constantly growing burden of sanctions that have been introduced since 2014 over a number of issues. Russia has developed a national payment system as an alternative to SWIFT, Visa and Mastercard after the US threatened tougher new sanctions that would target Russia’s financial system.
So far, Moscow has managed to partially phase out the greenback from its exports, signing currency-swap agreements with a number of countries including China, India and Iran. Russia has recently proposed using the euro instead of the US dollar in trade with the European Union.
Once a top-10 holder of US sovereign debt, Russia has all but eliminated its holdings of US Treasuries. Moscow has used the money to boost the nation’s foreign reserves and to build up its gold stockpile to stabilize the ruble.
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