“Investors are saying, ‘Just give me security against losses. I don’t care about trying to make money in this environment. I want zero risk,’ ” said Paul Lennox, corporate treasurer at Custom House, a Canadian investment firm.
Mr. Lennox said that some foreign investors are perplexed about how the United States seems to benefit even when its own economy is “buckling” and its debts are burgeoning so fast as to present a risk that the government is overextending itself.
“The U.S. is probably the only country that could get away with this,” he said. “The banking sector is in tatters, government debt is going through the roof, but the dollar is soaring and government T-bills and T-bonds are in hot demand.”
The development shows that there’s still “a lot of faith” in the massive U.S. economy around the world, he said. “For all its recent woes, the U.S. dollar remains the world’s primary reserve currency, and investors want to hold it in uncertain times.”
The U.S. government, “for all its problems, has plenty of room to maneuver to deal with this banking and credit crisis,” Mr. Lennox said. “There are few options to U.S. government debt for risk-averse investors. It is by far the largest, most liquid market in the world. For large institutional investors, U.S. government debt is far safer than bank deposits, which are only insured for relatively small amounts. Foreign governments, holding trillions of dollars in foreign reserves, have little option but to reinvest their dollars in U.S. government debt if they want a risk-free asset.”
Peter Schiff, president of Euro Pacific Capital, warned, however, that investors should be careful about putting blind faith in the U.S. government.
“Any money that the world lends to America to finance more consumption will never be repaid,” he said. “We will simply blow through it, and be back, hat in hand, begging for more. As we painfully learned in the housing bust, lending people money that they cannot pay back makes no sense. This applies equally to foreign central banks lending to America as it does to commercial banks lending to homeowners.”