Monday, July 21, 2008

Too Big To Fail

as American debts swell and foreigners hold more of it, nervousness grows that, some day, this arrangement will end badly. The dollar has been declining in value against other currencies. Some foreigners have begun to hedge their bets by buying more euros. “Obviously, this is going to come to an end,” Mr. Schiff said. “Foreigners are not charitable organizations, and they’re going to demand that we pay them back.”

No single country owning large amounts of dollar-based investments is inclined to dump them abruptly; nobody aims to start a panic. But fears have begun to grow that one day a country may get spooked that another is about to dump its dollars — and that could trigger pre-emptive panic selling.

“Foreigners could decide it’s just not worth the risk and sell,” says Andrew Tilton, an economist at Goldman Sachs. “The really dire scenarios have become a lot more likely than they were a year or two ago.”

Still, as Mr. Tilton and others are aware, one fundamental reality continues to offer assurances that foreigners will still buy American debt:

In the global economy of the moment, the United States itself is too big to fail.

The logic for that assurance goes like this:

The American consumer has for decades served as the engine of world commerce, using borrowed cash to snap up the accoutrements of modern living — clothes and computers and cars now manufactured, in whole or in part, in factories from Asia to Latin America. Eliminate the American wherewithal to shop, and the pain would ripple out to multiple shores.
In which the Freddie and Fannie bailouts serve as a metaphor for the economic house of cards built on a foundation of international meringue sustaining the dollar....., in y'day's NYTimes week in review.