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The Dollar in Freefall

March 18th, 2008 at 04:33 pm

While the market had its usual positive reaction to the Fed lowering the federal funds rate to 2.25%, over the long term, lowering the Fed rate will continue to lower the value of the dollar, leading to higher inflation and a weaker US economy.

In 2001, the Fed began lowering interest rates. By the end of 2001, the Fed funds rate was below 2% and it stayed below 2% until the end of 2004. During that same time period, the dollar went from being worth 1.12 Euros to a value of .75 Euros, a 33% decease in its value. As the Fed raised interest rates in 2005, the dollar increased in value, hitting a high of .85 Euros in late 2005.

Even with higher Fed rates, the dollar continued to decline in 2006, going to .75 Euros in mid 2007. However, since the banking debacle and the recent dramatic lowering of the Fed rates, the dollar is once again in rapid decline, trading at just .64 Euros.

To give a slightly different perspective, if the dollar was as strong today as it was in 2001, we would be paying $62 per barrel instead of $109 and gasoline would be $1.80/ gallon instead of $3.15.

So what can the average investor do in this time of sinking stock prices and short term interest rates that are below the rate of inflation?

Before Christmas, I recommended gold as an inflation hedge and as protection against the continued decline of the dollar. Since the beginning of 2008, gold is up over 17%. With the present Fed approach to devaluing the dollar through lower interest rates, I still believe that gold has upside potential. An easy way to own gold is through the ETF (Exchange Traded Fund) GLD.

Another approach is to buy stocks in high quality companies with high yields. While the stock market will probably continue to decline in 2008, a quality company such a GE, which yields 3.7%, will likely pay off in the long term. In the meantime, you will receive a yield that is higher than money market rates and that is taxed at a maximum of 15%.

I do not recommend buying any financial institutions stock at this juncture. The picture is still too clouded, and no one knows if another Bear Stearns is around the corner. However, if you are willing to take some risk, you might consider a Business Development Company. My favorite is Kohlberg Capital (KCAP). KCAP has an expense ratio of just 2.5% vs an industry average of 5.7%. It is trading at a 35% discount off of its Net Asset Value (NAV) and is yielding over 15% annually.

Regardless of how you decide to invest in these challenging times, remember to stay well diversified and not to chase the latest investment fad.

Until we see a different approach from the Fed, it is wise to plan for a continued dollar deterioration combined with higher inflation. This combination will lead to lower real rates of return on bonds and money market funds, providing a challenge to all investors.

1 Responses to “The Dollar in Freefall”

  1. Broken Arrow Says:

    Another well-written article! Always good to hear from you.

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