NEW YORK – The stock market dive Friday that brought the Dow Jones Industrial Average to near 16,000 and the Nasdaq to below 4,000 might reflect an accelerated move by Russia away from the petrodollar in retaliation for the Obama administration’s threatened economic sanctions over Russia’s takeover of Crimea.
Russia’s politically motivated attack on the petrodollar could trigger a major U.S. stock market collapse amid a global loss of confidence in the dollar caused by the Federal Reserve’s continuing policy of buying billions of dollars monthly in U.S. Treasury debt.
The Fed hopes to stimulate the economy by artificially keeping already depressed interest rates at zero.
With the Fed having limited options to address a panic caused by a bear market that could continue into next week, the risk of heavy selling of the U.S. dollar in international markets could raise prices in the increasingly import-dependent U.S. economy.
Hyperinflation could result, pushing the struggling economic recovery into a renewed economic recession.
On Friday, the third straight day of stock market losses, the Nasdaq plunged 54.37 points, or 1.3 percent, to 3,999.73. The Dow dropped 143.47 points, or 0.9 percent to 16,026.75, and the Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 17.39 points, or 1 percent, to 1,815.69.
U.S.A. Today reported Friday that after the market selloff last week, investors remain jittery as the Nasdaq has dropped 3.1 percent, its worst plunge since November 2011, the S&P 500 has fallen 4 percent from its record high close of April 2 and is 1.8 percent lower for the year, while the Dow has retreated 3.3 percent from its Dec. 31 record close of 16,576.66.
Economist Peter Koenig, a former staff member of the World Bank, warned last week Russia is in the process of abandoning the “petro-dollar” as the trading unit for oil and gas transactions, with Russian hydrocarbon trade estimated at approximately a trillion dollars per year.
“The main supporters of this plan are Sergey Glaziev, the economic aide of the Russian president and Igor Sechin, the CEO of Rosneft, the biggest Russian oil company and a close ally of Vladimir Putin,” noted Voice of Russia radio April 4. “Both have been very vocal in their quest to replace the dollar with the Russian ruble. Now, several top Russian officials are pushing the plan forward.”
On March 21, Reuters reported Russia and China were close to finalizing a “Holy Grail” deal in which the Russian state-owned gas firm Gazprom would pump 38 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year to China starting in 2018. The gas would flow through the first pipeline between the world’s largest supplier of natural gas and the world’s largest user of natural gas, with the transactions to be valued in the Russian ruble, Chinese yuan or possibly in gold.
ZeroHedge.com, an economic blog that has been warning Russia’s war on the petrodollar could trigger a major collapse in U.S. stock markets, reported March 20 that Putin thanked China for standing by Russia in Crimea.
In addition to negotiating energy deals with China, Russia is also continuing to negotiate a deal with Iran to barter 500,000 barrels of Iranian oil per day for Russian goods. The deal would enable Iran to sell an additional $20 billion in crude oil without having to value the transactions in dollars.
Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., warned President Obama in a letter addressed to the White House that if Iran “moves forward with this effort to evade U.S. sanctions and violate the terms of oil relief provided for in the [Iranian interim nuclear deal reached in Geneva in November 2013], the United States should respond by re-instating the crude oil sanctions, rigorously enforcing significant reductions in global purchases of Iranian crude oil, and sanctioning any violations to the fullest extent of law.”
Era of dollar debasement
Economist John Williams, editor of the ShadowStats.com economic blog, has warned that the Federal Reserve’s policy of Quantitative Easing, or QE, committing the Fed to buy U.S. Treasury and agency-issued debt, has undermined worldwide confidence in the dollar.
As WND reported, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen indicated in March that the Federal Reserve had not yet done enough to combat unemployment even after holding interest rates near zero for more than five years and engaging in a policy of Quantitative Easing that has pumped its balance sheet to $4.23 trillion.
Yellen’s remarks were widely interpreted by investors as indicating the Federal Reserve would continuing buying U.S. debt for the foreseeable future.
Under Yellen’s direction, the Fed has engaged in a policy of “tapering” the amount of QE, reducing by $10 billion a month the amount of U.S. debt the Fed purchases, with the aim of reducing the $85 billion a month amount of QE under former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to zero before the end of the year.
Williams warned in an April 2 commentary: “With the federal government and Federal Reserve locked into their respective systemic-destructive fiscal and monetary policies, a related, continuing massive loss of global and domestic confidence in the U.S. dollar, should lead to an outright dumping of the U.S. currency in the global markets, setting the initial stages of a hyperinflationary great depression.”
“The timing of the hyperinflation onset by the end of 2014 remains in place, with the odds of that occurrence estimated at 90 percent,” he wrote.
Williams continues to maintain that gold remains “the basic hedge for preserving the purchasing power of one’s wealth and assets in this still-developing era of dollar debasement.”
In his weekly newsletter published Friday, Williams warned that weak economic fundamentals remain suggestive of deteriorating business activity. The dollar is expected to continuing weakening on international currency markets as a result of the pressure on the Fed to continue buying billions of dollars of U.S. government-issued debt monthly.
In January, WND reported fears that rising interest rates would trigger a major downward stock market adjustment.
Last week, the dollar weakened against the euro and the British pound after the publication of minutes from the Federal Reserve’s Federal Open Market Committee’s March meeting. Yellen once again affirmed the Fed would consider allowing interest rates to rise six months after concluding the QE bond-buying program later this year.
After the publication of the FOMC minutes, the euro rose 0.4 percent against the dollar to $1.3852, its highest level since March 24, and the dollar fell against the British pound to $1.6801, the lowest level since Feb. 17.
On Tuesday, WND reported margin debt, the loans made by stock brokers to permit investor clients to buy stocks on credit, has reached a record high of $466 billion, approaching for the first time half a trillion dollars.
Borrowing to buy stocks works only as long as the stock market is going up in value. When the market levels off or begins to drop significantly in value, investors buying stocks on credit run the risk of having borrowed money on a losing proposition.
In the extreme, when an investor’s account begins to lose value in a stock market adjusting downward, a brokerage firm can initiate a “margin call,” forcing the investor either to liquidate stocks or to add money to the account to maintain the ratios demanded by federal regulators between the amount of money borrowed on margin and the underlying value of the stocks purchased.