Is there a shortage of US Dollars and if so why?

At the moment we are seeing quite a few trends combined which look as though they are returning us to a position where there is a shortage of US Dollars. This is troubling as this was an issue in the genesis of the credit crunch as back then it affected banks and particularly European and Japanese ones. It seems odd as the foreign exchange market is very liquid but maybe it is not liquid enough or at least at the right price. Back in March Pictet Bank provided something of an explainer.

The problem is a spike in the differential between LIBOR and the Overnight Index Swap, or the premium over the risk-free rate non-US banks pay to borrow dollars outside of the US.

The spread has risen to 42 basis points, the highest since February 2012, and up from 25 basis points at the start of last month and just 10 basis points in November.

While the rise does not pose a systemic risk, it has nevertheless raised the cost, and reduced the availability, of dollar-denominated loans for non-US banks by a considerable margin and in short space of time.

It is pretty much back to that level (43) after going above 60 and just for clarity that is 0.6%. Here is the first lesson  of this saga in that in our present world some interest-rates do not seem to have much impact at all as for example I did warn on the third of this month that a rise in Argentinian ones would backfire. Some 9.75% higher later I guess my point has been made for me. However here we have a 0.6% or so at the peak looks in terms of Carly Rae Jepson that it “really,really,really,really” matters. This appears to be driven by two factors the first is that it affects the “precious” otherwise known as the banks and is in US Dollars. Of course the official story is rather different as the excerpt below from the May Inflation Report of the Bank of England shows.

In the years following the crisis, funding spreads narrowed as banks repaired their balance sheets and became more resilient.

I am resilient, we are resilient , it has unexpectedly collapsed ….

US Dollar

This has been a factor as we note that recently the US Dollar has been what we might call King Dollar again. If we use the US Dollar Index or DXY for this we see that it has rallied four points since mid April from over 89 to over 93 now. The bigger turn came at the opening of June 2014 when it has dipped below 80. So the price of the US Dollar has risen too over this phase. Whilst the DXY is now out of date in trade terms as for example the Chinese Yuan is missing it does a job for this sort of analysis as the Yen and Euro are there.

US Interest-Rates and Yields

This has been a case of singing along with Jackie Wilson.

You know your love (your love keeps lifting me)
Keep on lifting (love keeps lifting me)
Higher (lifting me)
Higher and higher (higher

The US Federal Reserve has increased its official interest-rate to between 1.5% and 1.75% and nearly as importantly has been raising the rhetoric about there being more (3/4) increases this year. I am not convinced by this but if we look around markets seem to be accepting it perhaps on the grounds that unlike other central banks the Fed has at least been reasonably consistent.

Also there have been rises in bond yields with the media concentrating on 3% for the ten-year Treasury Note and then 3.1%. But for this purpose more significant is what has taken place at the shorter maturities. The chart below gives us a handle on what has been taking place there.

Let me be clear here this is a financial markets thing rather than a real economy thing but these do have a way of leaking across and tripping up the unwary. Adding to this we are seeing real world effects too as I note this from Reuters.

Interest rates on U.S. 30-year fixed-rate mortgages rose to the highest in seven years as a bond market selloff this week propelled 10-year yields to the highest since July 2011, Freddie Mac said on Thursday………Thirty-year mortgage rates averaged 4.61 percent in the week ended May 17, matching the level last seen in May 2011.

Of course they affect the banks from another route.

Quantitative Tightening

One way that the supply of US Dollars is being reduced is quite basic as the US Federal Reserve has set out to do that explicitly. From a balance sheet which just passed US $ 4.5 Trillion we now see that it has fallen to US $4.36 trillion which put like that may not seem a lot but that is US $140 billion or so. The pace is also picking up a bit so in terms of narrow money or what central bankers have loved to call “high-powered money” there is less of it to go around from this source at any rate.

Crude Oil

This too seems to have been a factor in the recent moves and there is some logic to this as of course the vast majority of oil business is settled in US Dollars. Not all of it anymore but a large proportion. Thus the rise in the price exemplified by the fact that the price of a barrel of Brent Crude Oil is now just below US $80 or some 52% over the past year has also sucked US Dollars out of the system. This is my view is of course mostly a timing thing as the oil producers will then spend them as for example one of the ways the money gets recycled is by the Gulf States buying weapons but we know that timing matters in the credit crunch era. Supposedly because we are more resilient as I look up that particular page in my financial lexicon for these times.

There are many views on this but here is one from a social media exchange I was involved in.

My thesis is the $/oil correlation is a consequence of oil market design/paradigm shift. This began 1st July 2017 & completed a couple of months ago. ie the dollar is now on an If I’m right, when (not if) oil falls the $ will fall with it ( @cjenscook )


Let us now look at it the other way from the point of view of the central bankers. Let me take you to the US Federal Reserve website where with something of a fanfare it declared this back in the day.

In May 2010, the FOMC announced that in response to the re-emergence of strains in short-term U.S. dollar funding markets it had authorized dollar liquidity swap lines with the Bank of Canada, the Bank of England, the European Central Bank, the Bank of Japan, and the Swiss National Bank.

They had been gone for all of three months and were supposed to go as my emphasis below returns us again to my financial lexicon for these times.

 In October 2013, the Federal Reserve and these central banks announced that their existing temporary liquidity swap arrangements–including the dollar liquidity swap lines–would be converted to standing arrangements that will remain in place until further notice.

Very little is being used right now as one European bank has taken 80 million US Dollars worth in revolving 6 day credit or there are more than one. But this reminds me of the old wartime analogy of President FD. Roosevelt and loaning your neighbour a hose in case he has a fire. Meanwhile the emerging markets have started to be called the submerging ones.

14 thoughts on “Is there a shortage of US Dollars and if so why?

  1. In fact the problem Shaun describes above was acknowledged by the economist Robert Triffin who pointed out that the country holding and issuing the world’s reserve currency has in fact an obligation to fund other countries and markets(all commodities are priced and traded in dollars) to meet demand for that currency as well as obviously supplying its own.
    This then leads to many other problems such as causing a rise in balance of payments deficits when there are large outflows due to high demand.
    It’s all explained here:

    As regards the counter-intuitive high price of oil in the face of a strenthening dollar, I think Saudi Arabia’s best interest is being served here in that it wants to get the price of the oil up near $80 a barrell to ensure the best price when it floats Saudi Aramco later this year or early next year.
    Oh, but that would mean the price of crude is being manipulated wouldn’t it? Oh sorry forget that then.

    • Hi Kevin

      I felt that the rally in 2011 to US $125 per barrel for Brent Crude Oil was at least partially driven by the commodities desks of the banks. So we should be grateful they no longer exist whilst OPEC and the like will be much less pleased.

      What isn’t manipulated these days?

  2. hello Shaun,

    Well if there is a dollar shortage — does that mean our old friends the TBTF Banks are needful ?

    Back in 2007 I believe it was the European banks’ funding needs were a substantial $1.1–1.3 trillion …..

    so a $160 billion drop is going to kick the whole thing off again ?

    My word , how little has changed in the past 10 years – time for pitchforks ?


    • Hi Forbin

      I think we both know that they are always needful! Often the trouble is one bank refusing to deal with another which ends up spreading like a wildfire. The US $160 Billion is only so far as the US Federal Reserve is adding to it. Of course in equivalent terms we are getting more Euros and Yen but somehow that does not seem to matter as much as it should.

  3. Shaun, I dont know enough about it but Trump and the USA seem to be the country challenging the status quo. Their actions may be blamed as the trigger for the next f”inancial cycle” since business cycles are now neutered by crony capitalism and QE.

    I’ve supported the new bank of hoe street central bank -HSCB. Ive been buying their issuance and the notes are both pretty and useful to society at the same time.

    • Hi Paul C

      HSCB is an intriguing development which I had not heard until now. For others unaware here are a couple of details from and a link to a Guardian article on it.

      “One of the delightful ironies of the undertaking is that the ‘bank’ could only have to raise as little as £20,000 to buy out £1m of local debt, because bad loans are often written down to a fraction of their face value in the secondary market.
      “The system forces people into debt for basic needs,” says Powell. “We are the forerunners of what we hope will be a bigger movement for debt abolition.””

      Do you think they may have given an idea or two to the new Italian coalition?

      • Thanks Shaun, the difference here is that 50% of the debt cancellation note purxhase cost goes to worthy social goods. Not like Italy proposal, all benefits are to the banks and govts for their patent mismanagement.

  4. The mafia were given the title ‘organised crime’ however they are amateurs compared to banks and central banks,plus unlike Al Capone they only ever get fined never jailed
    How can there be a dollar shortage there are at least $24T more than there was in 1980 oh I mean debt but then they are the same thing.
    How can there be a dollar shortage.The Donald just creates more dollars at will he is cutting taxes and increasing spending a lot of that increase on the military.Why do you suppose they need to increase military spending.
    When will the charade of the financial parallel universe come crashing down?

    • Hi Private Fraser

      I still think that QE4 is a possibility in the US and we are edging towards it with higher bond yields and its opposite QT. The trouble is these days that even one $ is not always the same as another one.

  5. “one of the ways the money gets recycled is by the Gulf States buying weapons”
    It’s a whole lot worse than that, mercenary states:

      • One odd thing about Trump, from someone who thinks he is far less odd than most… He does believe in compellence and has few qualms about mercenary actions. For instance he thought we should have taken a percentage of Iraq’s oil in perpetuity as recompense for their liberation.

        In terms of mercenaries though you have to talk about ISIS themselves. Syria was a mercenary war, hence why the combined militaries of Russia, USA etc took so long to defeat them. Basically kill a few and the day rate on that side goes up, hence they recruit until the gulf petrodollars run out.

        Amusingly the US devoted $500 million to training their own militia. At the end of which they got 4 or 5 dudes actually fighting for them. The rest took the training and weapon and sold themselves to the highest bidder.

        The Russians had their own solution to this. Pick a town and use strategic bombers, thermobarics and heavy artillery on it to convince anyone standing against them that no day rate was worth it.

    • I remember reading an article in The Economist in about 1999 about possible pipelines for Central Asian gas and the best answer to avoid political problems was through Afghanistan to Pakistani ports. After all the blood and treasure expended there, the line is now being built but into India.

  6. Economic policy is not about making things ‘better’, but is really about picking ‘winners’ and ‘losers’. So, if you have lost out over the last decade or so because you are young and asset poor, it is not ‘collateral damage’ but that they have chosen it to be so. Know that. It is a truism where rates are managed.

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