The U.S dollar is shrinking as a percentage of the world's currency supply, raising concerns that the greenback is about to see its long run as the world's premier denomination come to an end.
When compared to its peers, the dollar has drifted to a 15-year low, according to the International Monetary Fund, indicating that more countries are willing to use other currencies to do business.
While the American currency still reigns supreme -- it constitutes $3.72 trillion, or 62 percent, of the $6 trillion in allocated foreign exchange holdings by the world's central banks -- the Japanese yen, Swiss franc and what the IMF classifies as "other currencies" such as the Chinese yuan are gaining.
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"Generally speaking, it is not believed by the vast majority that the American dollar will be overthrown," Dick Bove, vice president of equity research at Rafferty Capital Markets, said in a note. "But it will be, and this defrocking may occur in as short a period as five to 10 years."
Bove uses several metrics to make his point, focusing on the dollar as a percentage of total world money supply.That total has plunged from nearly 90 percent in 1952 to closer to 15 percent now. He also notes that the Chinese yuan, the yen and the euro each have a greater share of that total.
"To the degree that China succeeds in increasing its market share of the world's currency market, the United States is the loser," Bove said. "For years, I have been arguing that the move of the Chinese makes perfect sense from their point-of-view but no sense for the Americans."
For a country with a budget deficit in excess of $1 trillion a year, the consequences of losing standing as the world's reserve currency would be dire.
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"If the dollar loses status as the world's most reliable currency the United States will lose the right to print money to pay its debt. It will be forced to pay this debt," Bove said. "The ratings agencies are already arguing that the government's debt may be too highly rated. Plus, the United States Congress, in both its houses, as well as the president are demonstrating a total lack of fiscal credibility."
Bove is not the only one sounding the reserve currency alarm, though the issue has fallen off the front pages as hopes for a sustained U.S. recovery have taken hold and the stock market has surged to near-record highs.
But the looming battle over budget sequestration in Washington could revive long-standing fears of fiscal stability.
"If (dollars) no longer offer the safety that investors have come to expect, they will not function as the stable collateral required by bank funding markets," Barry Eichengreen, a professor at the University of California, Berkley, warned in a Financial Times commentary late last year. "They will not be regarded as an attractive form in which to hold international reserves. And they will not be seen as a convenient vehicle for merchandise transactions."
To be sure, the markets at this point are not acting like the dollar is in severe trouble. The greenback has maintained its position as a general safe haven in times of trouble.
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"Longer term, of course, countries are going to diversify away from the dollar if they can. There are more favorable investment opportunities out there if you can catch yield," said Christopher Vecchio, currency analyst at DailyFX, a trading firm. "Despite the increase in risk to the U.S. dollar and Treasury, investors still feel safest at home."
But the Federal Reserve's successive quantitative easing programs, which have created $3 trillion in new greenbacks, continue to spur worry over the dollar's status.
"The No. 1 security issue we have as a nation is the preservation of the U.S. dollar as the world's reserve currency," said Michael Pento, president of Pento Portfolio Strategies. "It's a thousand times more important than a nuclear bomb being tested by North Korea. It's a thousand times more important that we keep the dollar as the world's reserve currency, and yet we are doing everything to abuse that status."
The dollar's seemingly precarious status is why Pento remains bullish on gold and believes the dollar's demise as the premier reserve currency could end even sooner than Bove predicts -- perhaps by 2015.
"Five to 10 years -- that would be an outlier," he said. "I would say 2015, 2016, that would be the time when it becomes a particularly salient issue. When we're spending 30 to 50 percent of our revenue on debt service payments, we enter into a bond market crisis. The dollar starts to drop along with bond prices. That would set off the whole thing."