Down on the Dollar, Up on All the Rest

06/04/2009 12:10 pm EST


Igor Greenwald

Chief Investment Strategist, MLP Profits

The gardening metaphor has infested financial commentary like a runaway weed, because who has time these days to tend one's prose?

There's money to be made on fertilizer and on beans. Green shoots have flowered, making it hard to recall exactly where one buried all that gold last fall.

These weren't some shrinking violets, either—more like vivid blooms signifying a thaw in the world's three most populous and arguably most promising economies.

First came news that India had recently grown at an unexpectedly brisk 5.8% annual pace, spurred by strong domestic demand for services. China chipped in with a pair of upbeat manufacturing surveys. The land of the free and the home of the downsized surprised with increases in factory sentiment, construction spending, and new agreements to buy homes.

So apocalypse has once again been delayed, leaving survivalists to spoon the surplus Spam onto generous servings of crow. Many doomsayers have understandably preferred instead to take their frustrations out on the US dollar. Some of it boils down to distaste for America or umbrage at controversial government policies.

Whatever the motivation, Russian crackpots and Hong Kong-based investing gurus are in agreement that the US is doomed. The difference seems to be that the guru envisions a Zimbabwe-style collapse, while the crackpot is at least willing to grant us the upside of a Weimar Germany. This, even as Weimar and Japan have come around to the view that the world won't end tomorrow.

Yes, they're reading last rites for the greenback in every language known to man. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner drew loud laughter from Chinese students in Beijing by assuring them that China's holdings of US bonds are "very safe." But the trend is no laughing matter to a Chinese government facing losses on depreciating US notes.

At least the Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Company of Chengdu will get a vanity plate for its Benjamins, having agreed to ransom the Hummer from bankrupt General Motors (OTC: GMGMQ) on the cheap. The former symbol of US military might had turned into an unaffordable toy, just like its gas-gorging vehicles.  

For Abu Dhabi royalty, the Anglo-American yard sale has already paid off, their Highnesses' investment fund unloading a goodly chunk of Barclays (NYSE: BCS; LSE: BARC) at a royal premium to what it paid for rights to same in October. Barclays shares in London bowed 13%, undoing the past week's progress.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev took his turn in the dollar-baiting ring, as if Russia could offer an alternative. Hungry Russian workers who've gone unpaid for months aren’t holding their breath; they're blocking a motorway. The business empire that nominally employs them is more than $20 billion in debt despite a Kremlin bailout, though this, too, is presumably America's fault, like the mounting wage arrears and 10% unemployment.

And somehow amid all the welching and finger pointing, Moscow's RTS share index has rallied 38% in the last month. Hong Kong was up 11% in three days through June 1st before an overdue cold shower. Brazilian stocks were up 8% since May 21, while Canada rose 7%. So far, the latest dollar bash is looking no more damaging than a frat party.

The run on the greenback and the rush into emerging markets and commodities has further to go, argues Gregory Weldon of Weldon's Money Monitor, who also sees opportunities in foodstuffs. He believes that wounded US and UK consumers are the principal risk to that story.

But the rise in commodity and share prices could persist even if economic growth disappoints, argues David Fuller of Fullermoney.

Whichever way the pendulum swings, TransCanada's natural gas pipelines will continue to throw off a nice dividend, suggests Gordon Pape. Carlton Delfeld finds decent values just off the beaten track in Latin America, in a closed-end Chile fund and an ETF indexed to small-caps in Brazil.

Their recent track record is encouraging. Delfeld's last pick excerpted here, the Claymore/Alpha Shares China Small Cap ETF (NYSE: HAO), is up 18% in the four weeks since. And Suncor Energy (NYSE:SU; TSX: SU) has rallied 28% since Pape highlighted the energy producer for readers on April 29.

It seems far-fetched to expect their latest picks to duplicate this performance in the next month or even the next year—but no more so than the past month's gains seemed, a month ago. And it would certainly be less far-fetched than the persistent fears that the world as we know it is about to end. There's little upside left in waiting for the apocalypse.
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