The dominoes are toppling. What began as a credit crunch has turned into a dollar crunch. We are witnessing a run on the world's paramount reserve currency, an event that occurs twice a century or so, and never with a benign outcome.
The US dollar has fallen through parity against the Canadian dollar and plummeted to all-time lows against a basket of currencies. This is dangerous. None of the mature economic blocs seems able to take the strain, let alone step in to restore order. Ultimately,
Is this what gold is sniffing as it breaks out against all currencies, smashing through €500 an ounce against the euro, and vaulting to a 28-year high of $743 against the dollar?
"Central banks have been forced to choose between global recession or sacrificing control of gold, and have chosen the perceived lesser of two evils," said Citigroup in a fresh report. This could take gold to $1,000 an ounce, or higher."
Until now, the euro has served as the "anti-dollar", the default choice for Asians and petrodollar powers wary of US assets. This cannot last. Eurogroup chair, Jean-Claude Juncker, has stopped pretending that all is well. "We have begun to have great concern about the exchange rate of the euro," he said.
No doubt Ben Bernanke will use all means to avert disaster, including the "printing press" he invoked in November 2002. By this he meant that the Fed could inject unlimited stimulus by purchasing as many bonds and assets as it wants. He believes the Fed could have avoided the Depression if it had been more creative in 1931. Even so, I am not sure that the Bernanke Fed will move fast enough, given fears of moral hazard, or, indeed, whether the rate cuts on offer are enough to head off an insolvency crisis. The chart of S&P 500 looks eerily similar to October 1987, the last time a tumbling US dollar set off a crash.
Large parts of the global credit system are still shut. The $2.2 trillion market for commercial paper has shrunk by $368bn over the past seven weeks as lenders refuse to roll over loans. The $2.5 trillion market for "structured finance" remains frozen.
We wait to see what happens as "teaser rates" on some $1.5 trillion of mortgages jump with a venomous kick in coming months. The Fed should have thought about this three years ago when rates were 1pc. It is too late now.