Another, more helpful way of looking at what is happening is to see it as a change in perception of where risk lies. Of course, there is risk in equities ”“ how could there not be with the prospect of the once-mighty General Motors filing for bankruptcy? But there is also risk in bonds, including dollar bonds issued by AAA governments. So, as you can see in the graphs, the dollar/sterling rate has come sharply back, reflecting a change in the relative perception of risk between the two countries. More significant still has been the rise in the interest rate on 10-year bonds issued by the US, the UK and eurozone governments. As you can see, the interest rate on 10-year US bonds spun down from about 4 per cent in the middle of last year, to close to 2 per cent at the turn of the year. Now it is heading back to 4 per cent again. Those are astounding swings. If you have bought at the right moment last summer, and then sold at the right moment, you could just about have doubled your money. December buyers would now be facing a large loss.
Now look ahead. What will happen over the next decade, particularly in the US? Tax revenues have collapsed, while spending has soared, as the third graph shows. The US federal government is raising only about 55 cents in taxation for every dollar it spends. The rest has to be borrowed, either from foreign countries such as China and Japan, or by artificially creating the stuff by borrowing from the US Federal Reserve system. In the latter case the debt is being “monetised”, the practice that normally happens only in wartime or in Latin America and which threatens massive inflation (the US mechanism for monetising debt is slightly different from our own “quantitative easing”, but the effect is pretty much the same).
This cannot go on, as President Barack Obama acknowledges. “We are,” as he puts it, “out of money.” So what will happen?
It is very hard to know because there are no obvious precedents.
Read it carefully and read it all.