By Chris Matthews, MarketWatch
Web Summit via Getty Images
“I believe that increasingly there will be questions by bondholders who are receiving negative real and nominal interest rates, while there is a lot of printing of money, about whether the debt assets they are holding are good storeholds of wealth. I believe that cash, which is non-interest-bearing money, will not be the safest asset to hold.”
That’s billionaire investor Ray Dalio making the case that U.S. dollars, perhaps, any currency, will prove a losing bet in this new era of COVID-19.
During a question-and-answer session on social-media platform Reddit, the founder of hedge fund Bridgewater Associates underscored a point that he’s made in the past, but one that has more resonance as the infectious disease that was first identified in Wuhan, China in December wreaks havoc on global economies and forces central banks and governments to unfurl an array of unprecedented fiscal and monetary stimulus efforts. Those measures are intended to help limit the severity of an economic downturn that looks certainly to amount to a world-wide recession.
Back in late January, in an interview with CNBC, Dalio made a similar call, saying “cash is trash. Those comments were the subject of widespread scorn as stocks tumbled and recent reports said that his flagship fund — the Pure Alpha Fund II — was down 20% on the year.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA -0.38% , the S&P 500 /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX -0.80% and the Nasdaq Composite Index /zigman2/quotes/210598365/realtime COMP -1.69% are between 18% and 21% below their February record highs.
But Dalio defended his skepticism toward cash by pointing to history.
“Now, like in the 1930-1945 period, interest rates have hit 0% and printing money and buying financial assets doesn’t get the money and credit to go where policy makers want it to go, so the central government borrows a lot and the central bank prints a lot of money and creates a lot of credit to buy this debt, which the central government spends to target what they want to save,” he wrote.
This money printing and government borrowing, Dalio, argued in a July article on LinkedIn , has sowed the seeds for coming inflation, a major shift from the persistently low inflation that has marked the past two decades.
To Dalio’s point, the Federal Reserve unleashed a virtually limitless bond-buying program and an array of new facilities to help ease market pressures and cut federal-funds rates to a range of 0% and 0.25%. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump signed a more than $2 trillion relief package for workers and companies affected by COVID-19 into law on March 27.
“I think that the [low-inflation] paradigm that we are in will most likely end when a) real interest rate returns are pushed so low that investors holding the debt won’t want to hold it and will start to move to something they think is better and b) simultaneously, the large need for money to fund liabilities will contribute to the ‘big squeeze,” he wrote.
“At that point, there won’t be enough money to meet the needs for it, so there will have to be some combination of large deficits that are monetized, currency depreciations, and large tax increases,” Dalio wrote.
He warned of the grave implications of this dynamic: “these circumstances will likely increase the conflicts between the capitalist haves and the socialist have-nots.”