Currency crisis: first countries in the line of fire- PIIGS

January 21st, 2010

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In our previous article (Next phase of GFC is when governments go bust), we wondered how can someone protect their savings in the event of currency crisis. Since the word “currency crisis” is a very broad term that can cover all kinds of scenarios, there is no one-size-fit-all solution to this problem. Hopefully, our musings will give you a better idea of where to start investigating and seek professional advice.

As we mentioned before in our previous article, there is a downward trend in many governments’ credit rating. The next stage of the GFC will see governments going bust. The main thing to understand is that this event need not necessarily be imminent. Also, you must not make the mistake of seeing that as a singular event- in reality, it will be a sequence of events punctuated by calm in between, as each country is at different stages of the fiscal cycle. The reason why we say that is because there are plenty of investment tip-sheets, newsletters and reports persuading people to buy their wares by giving the impression that government defaults are imminent events that will happen all at once. The mainstream media is not too helpful too. As investors, you have to be clear that there are time-frames and order of sequences in these events. Not only that, some of these events may not happen at all.

With that, we will continue. Please note that we are not ‘predicting’ or forecasting the future. What we are presenting is just a rough sketch of what may possibly happen.

Currently, the most vulnerable countries to default are the PIIGS countries (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain). It does not mean that all of them will blow up tomorrow. Marc Faber reckons that a couple of them will blow up within the next two years. Even though we do not know which ones and when exactly it will happen, one thing is clear- since these countries uses the Euro, the viability of the Euro as a currency will be put in question. As we said before in Is this a bear market rally or a turning point?,

The European Union is an economic union but not a political union. Therefore, the European Central Bank (ECB) does not have the same level of authority and political support as the US Federal Reserve. Individual nations using the Euro as their currency cannot simply print money to bail out their financial system because they have surrendered their economic sovereignty to an intra-national authority. To do that, there can be a situation whereby taxpayers of say, Germany, are asked to bail out the taxpayers of say, Spain. Politically, this is too much to ask.

This is where the uncertainty lies. There will be political and legal wrangling on what to do with these wayward PIIGS nations. Will the Euro survive the wrangling? No one knows. Since financial markets hates uncertainty, the Euro will continue to face downward pressure (which is happening right now). Of course, if it is suddenly clear that the Euro will not survive, then its value will be zero straight away. Should that happen, there will be a currency crisis, derivative meltdown (as an effect of PIIGS default or implosion of the Euro) and another global financial panic this very second. Since it is not clear yet, the Euro will continue its orderly descent. In the meantime, the financial markets will keep on guessing while the European authorities will not reveal much of what’s happening in the discussions behind closed doors.

Now, the question is, against which currency will the Euro depreciate against? Someone once said, if currencies are in a beauty contest, the winner will be the least ugly one. The US dollar, even though it is flawed and may not survive as a currency in the long run, has more time on its side. It is less ugly than the Euro. As far as the eye can see, it is more likely to survive longer than the Euro. Therefore, we will see the US dollar ‘strengthening’ against the Euro.

If you are one of the citizens of the PIIGS countries and if it so happen that it is your country that is going to blow up, then there’s no better time to prepare than right now.

In the next article, we will turn our eyes to the next sequence in the time-line.

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