Central banks start to abandon the U.S. dollarJuly 9, 2010: 9:23 AM ET
There's mounting evidence that central bankers have little faith in the greenback these days. Can we blame them?
by Heidi N. Moore, contributor
There are those who would argue that the financial crisis was caused by over-enthusiastic worship of the Almighty Dollar. Call it brutal financial karma, but that church is looking pretty empty these days.
A new report from Morgan Stanley analyst Emma Lawson confirms what many had suspected: the dollar is firmly on its way to losing its status as the reserve currency of the world. We already knew that central banks have preferred gold to dollars, and that they're even selling their gold for cash; now, according to Lawson's data, it seems that those central banks prefer almost anything to dollars.
Lawson found that central banks have dropped their allocation to U.S. dollars by nearly a full percentage point to 57.3% from 58.1%, and calls this "unexpected given the global environment." She adds, "over time we anticipate that reserve managers may reduce their holdings further."
What is surprising is that the managers of those central banks aren't buying traditional fall-backs like the euro, the British pound or the Japanese yen. Instead, she suggests they're putting their faith in other dollars - the kind that come from Australia and Canada. The allocation to those currencies, which fall under "other" in the data, rose by a full percentage point to 8.5%, accounting almost exactly for the drop in the U.S. dollar allocation.
Call it diversification, if you must, but the trendline indicates that central banks are finally putting their money where their anti-dollar mouths are. The dollar has been in free-fall since 2007.
And just last week, the United Nations released a report concluding that the dollar should no longer be the world's reserve currency because it is not stable enough. The dollar is down 5% over the past month, and even currency traders don't see it as a safe haven any more.
There is certainly an element of economic competitiveness in those statements from foreign bodies and governments, but at the same time, Americans shouldn't be surprised that, in these touchy times, central banks want more of a measure of security than the dollar can afford right now - particularly when we're running up an enormous deficit through the costs of stimulus programs and two simultaneous wars.
Just last week, America's debt lept $166 billion in a single day. That one-day run-up is greater than the entire U.S. annual deficit in 2007. And Americans, the world's consumers, continue much of the behavior that helped the U.S savings rate drop so low.
The other options that reserve managers seem to be taking are also not a surprise. Canada's rude financial health - and robust banks - were bound to draw more attention. The Australian dollar is near a nine-month high because employment numbers there are strong.
The steady fall of the U.S. dollar is, while understandable, certainly nothing to be celebrated at home. The U.S. just has to make a stronger case - both to buyers and to its citizens - that it is on the right path.