Other Hegemon Currencies Failed--Then What?

Thu, Nov 14, 2013 - 12:34am
I was curious. Over time in the recent past, other hegemon currencies failed, but those countries managed to hang around, even still today.
So, what happened to those folks in those countries who lost the “exorbitant privilege?”
Here is a chart showing different currencies, that were dominant at one point in the recent past. From my historical understanding, this era is referred to as the mercantilist era, and had to do with international trade following the discovery that the world was indeed round.
So, let us ask: why was such currency at the time the hegemon?
Mercantilist banks cleared transactions in the dominant currency at the time. Duh. Makes sense. Who wanted payment in something that had no value? Which bank wanted to loan value and be repaid in something not presently in demand? Since the strong banks in the dominant countries set the terms of transactions, it was natural for transactions to be cleared in the currency of the dominant trading regions or countries of the time.
But still, it nags me that each and every one of those currencies were not fiat, but real, tangible coins, or they were bills, that is, paper claims upon gold / silver specie. So, one holding a paper bill could exchange the bill for the real deal. Unlike the situation today, and unlike since 1971 when Nixon closed the gold window. So those currencies, the hegemons of the time, were not pure fiat, like today. Even that being the case, what is the lesson to learn?
The reserve currencies of the time enjoyed their prominence based on real flows of goods, and as those flows were altered, the dominant currencies changed as well. Aha, this makes sense. But still, what happened at the end of the hegemon reign?
Importantly, and questions I have had for a long time include these: if those hegemon currencies all eventually failed, then why did the countries still exist? What happened to the citizens of the countries that had the former dominant currency? What happened to their way of life? Did they end up third world countries? What happened to their living standards? Did they recover? If so, how, and what brought it about?
I am starting to think I figured it all out. I am starting to think it is not that complicated. I am starting to think that the answers are so obvious, so as to be ignored, because the answers to these questions really do not matter.
So let’s get to the point.
Unlike those from the mercantilist era, the world’s dominant currency today, the dollar, is nothing but a fiat currency. https://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-fiat-money.htm
Since this is a web site devoted to exploring the end of the great Keynesian experiment, naturally, questions arise about just that, what happens when it ends?
Plenty of intellectuals extol fiat currencies as being a good thing, including even being important and necessary, like, for example, an esoteric exposition that only Pining could like [sorry buddy, but you are the professor]. Take this intellectual effort from these guys, from an article I plucked at random during a google search:
Look at what these European intellectuals say:
“Not only the central bank of the hegemonic country can act as a lender of last resort to its own banks, but also it can do it for the state, and the national government has the ability to stimulate global, not just domestic, effective demand.
Further, the risk that the hegemon would be unable to expand demand globally, because it is forced to maintain a fixed ratio of currency to an external asset is [non-]existent. It is true that foreign countries and agents may show unwillingness to hold dollar denominated assets, but, as in the domestic case, the Fed can always monetize debt.
Again, as in the closed economy case, this only would be inflationary and lead to a run on the dollar if there is currency substitution on a massive scale, which would require a credible alternative to the dollar.
And that leads as to the current crisis and the euro, which was hailed by some as a possible alternative to dollar hegemony. It is important, however, to emphasize, that even if economic agents substitute the euro for the dollar, the United States still would not have its ability to import curtailed, since most American imports are invoiced in dollars, including commodities. Essentially, that means that the United States would still not have a balance of payments constraint. In this sense, it is the ability to determine that key commodities and particular contracts are settled in dollars, not the specific currency reserve holdings that determines which currency is dominant.”
So, let me translate some of this ivory-tower thinking and relate it to what JY said earlier in the week, as well as relate it to events in the middle east and recent developments about Iran.
First, they say it is a good thing to be able to print at will and not be restrained to a gold standard, because it means that the issuer of the fiat can bail out the banks, the governments, and on a GLOBAL basis! This is a good thing, according to these intellectuals. Since when is moral hazard a good thing, though? Maybe I missed that class in college.
This paragraph just absolutely blows me away with its imperiousness:
“Further, the risk that the hegemon would be unable to expand demand globally, because it is forced to maintain a fixed ratio of currency to an external asset is [non-]existent. It is true that foreign countries and agents may show unwillingness to hold dollar denominated assets, but, as in the domestic case, the Fed can always monetize debt.”
Did you catch that? They say printing can go to infinity because there is no tie to assets, like gold. I.e., QE to infinity. Like what Mr. TF said would happen. Hmmm . . .
Did you see the rest? Other countries may show “unwillingness” to hold dollar denominated assets, but . . . the Fed can always monetize debt.” WTF!! Let’s do this slow. So, if other countries don’t want our treasuries for their balance of payments, which means that either those treasuries are not purchased at auction, or the countries holding them exchange them for real assets, say, like the JPM building in NY with the huge underground gold vault, then those treasuries are not valueless, no, not at all, because the Fed will simply print more dollar bills and exchange those worthless treasuries with zero term, zero coupon debt notes called the US dollar!
They say that this poses no inflationary problems, either: “Again, as in the closed economy case, this only would be inflationary and lead to a run on the dollar if there is currency substitution on a massive scale, which would require a credible alternative to the dollar.”
See, they imply that inflation could only occur if there was a credible alternative to the dollar. Meaning, if folks LOST CONFIDENCE in holding dollars, and turned to something else. You know, something tangible, which holds its value, does not erode, is rare, is divisible, is interchangeable, you know, gold or silver. And on this point, they are accurate. Under no circumstances can there be any credibility lent to the concept that gold and silver are currency substitutes for fiat dollars.
This last little part is what ties it together with what JY wrote about China taking over Africa, and which zerohedge and other sites have informed us about regarding Saudi Arabia telling Mr. Obomber to invade Syria, and which Iranian developments show that the USA is soon about to lose its ability to force transactions to be cleared in terms of dollars. Here is the kicker, and the concept to keep in mind for the immediate future: “it is the ability to determine that key commodities and particular contracts are settled in dollars, not the specific currency reserve holdings that determines which currency is dominant.”
So there it is. It is the “ability to determine that key commodities . . . are settled in dollars . . . [that] determines which currency is dominant.” So, it comes down to power to control the transactions’ currency. Who controls the transaction, controls which currency is dominant.
So, adding it all up, if the USA loses the ability to control that transactions are denominated in dollars, then the USA loses its hegemon, and some other currency takes over.
We are seeing that right now, in real time. It is only a matter of time before the world’s commodities contracts are settled in something other than the dollar. When that happens, the dollar will be as valuable as whatever uses that little, colorful piece of paper has.
What evidence exists of that? Plenty.
JY mentioned the Chinese invasion, economically, of the continent of Africa. Soon, China will be the resource rich producer of goods and services, with ITS citizens and subjects the source of commerce, and from which economic power the mercantilist banks will emerge. We have all seen and read and heard that China is separately negotiating international trade agreements priced in terms other than the dollar.
We have heard, seen, and read plenty of stories of how certain of the middle east countries have benefitted from US military protection in exchange for requiring oil purchases to be priced in dollars. The Saudia Arabia mess about Syria has blown wide open that Obomber is just a Saudi Puppet bowing to his masters and trying, desperately <cough, false flag, cough> to incite a war in Syria in order to get Saudi gas pipelines routed through Syria to feed Europe.
And now, the US has been exposed as being a patsy to Iran, and the French surrender afficionados have had to come to our rescue as having the only backbone in the group to stand up against the absurd surrender terms?
And it is the Russians who are staunchly advocating peace, who took in a US national to protect him from the murderous USA spying agencies trying to silence his whistleblowing of massive, illegal spying, of USA citizens and EVERY SINGLE WORLD LEADER!?
This is crazy talk. But, it is very much fact, and very much happening right now, in real time.
Is everyone preparing, or not?
Connect the dots, and view things with an open, clear mind. Then, putting the anger aside, reach a rational conclusion of the steps to take to prepare, and do so, accordingly.
Oh yeah, and the answer to the initial question, is simple yet profound. Those people, of the regimes who were the hegemons of the time? Well, they went on living, as the economically powerful nations elsewhere rose and faded away, like the ebbing of the tide. Life just went on. Just like ours will, only differently.

About the Author


Spartacus Rex
Nov 14, 2013 - 3:42am

Simon Black: Senior bank executives explain how...

Senior bank executives explain how US dominance is declining…

November 13, 2013

By the early 4th century AD, the Roman Empire was suffering tremendous turmoil, including plague, barbarian invasions, deep recession, civil wars, coups, etc.

Much of this had been brought on by Rome’s utterly dismal economic condition.

The government simply did not have enough money to sustain its operations, let alone pay for all the generous welfare programs needed to placate the population.

So as you could imagine, they decided to make up the difference by debasing the currency.

Roman coins were being debased so rapidly that they eventually lost credibility as a medium of exchange among the merchant class. As a result, the empire’s once vast trade network practically collapsed.

With such an abrupt decline in commerce, the government’s tax revenue also declined. In 301 AD, things got so desperate that Diocletian stepped in with a ‘solution’.

First, he blamed evil speculators for all the inflation, imposing the death penalty on some of them.

Then he issued what is arguably the dumbest law in the history of the world– his now infamous Edict on Maximum Prices, which imposed price controls for a thousand goods and services from wine to clothing to wages.

Of course, any high school economics student can tell you that price controls don’t work. And they didn’t work for Diocletian either.

The long-term effect of the law was devastating. Inflation and shortages soon prevailed. And there was a mass exodus of rich and poor alike who fled the empire seeking a better life elsewhere.

One could argue that this was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Rome.

Ironically, Diocletian was actually attempting to ‘reform’ the system, not to send Rome over the cliff. Yet this is one of countless historical examples of how the road to ruin is almost always paved with good intentions.

Just like Diocletian, our modern politicians continually make attempts to ‘fix’ things. Yet their attempts fail miserably, typically making the situation worse.

Two of the most destructive laws recently passed by the US government, for example, are the (1) the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act and (2) the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA).

Like Diocletian’s Edict, these laws are attempts to reform the system. Yet the results have been disastrous. In particular, they’ve destroyed one of the last competitive advantages that the United States has today: the dominance of its banking system.

The US banking system is really the foundation of the global banking system; an international wire transfer from, say, Thailand to Colombia will pass through one or two of the big Wall Street banks before reaching its final destination.

Nearly every bank in the world relies on the US banking system. It’s critical.

Yet each of these laws creates debilitating, onerous regulations that foreign banks are required to follow.

It’s the height of arrogance that the US government expects to be able to regulate and control foreign banks.

But the only thing the laws are really doing is accelerating the creation of a new standard for international banking– one that minimizes US influence.

As I’ve been on the ground here in Singapore for the last several days meeting with a number of bankers, this is becoming very clear.

Many senior bank executives have explained to me that they are rapidly expanding their regional ‘corresponding bank’ relationships. They’ve also told me how non-US dollar cross border trade is really taking off.

In other words, Asia is beginning to declare its financial independence by establishing its own system to avoid the US banks. Places like Singapore and Hong Kong are becoming the primary settlement and correspondence centers, rather than the US.

All of this substantially reduces US power and influence. So like Diocletian’s Edict, these ‘reform’ laws have had the exact opposite effect as the US government intended.

Foreign banks are complying for now. But quite soon, the United States will end up losing one of the few remaining jewels of its global financial dominance.

by Simon Black


Spartacus Rex
Nov 14, 2013 - 3:58am

Bitcoin: A Currency the Fed Can’t Figure Out by Jeffrey Tucker

Now, this is sheer entertainment. The Chicago branch of the Federal Reserve has addressed the great monetary question of our day. A researcher has taken a detailed look at the prospects for market-based crypto-currency, with a special focus on Bitcoin. It concludes that Bitcoin is not a viable replacement for the dollar. The report includes some dark hints that should it ever become so, it should probably be crushed.

What’s funny and fascinating is to follow the thinking here. What you discover is the greatest act of Freudian projection I’ve ever seen in a Federal Reserve study.

Bitcoin keeps going up in value relative to the goods and services it buys. That’s a pretty weird and unprecedented thing.

“It is hard to imagine a world,” says the unimaginative study, “where the main currency is based on an extremely complex code understood only by a few and controlled by even fewer, without accountability, arbitration, or recourse.”

Blink, blink. This is the Fed talking here. Talk about complex. When the Fed governor speaks in Congress, he (soon she) speaks in such a blithering array of econ-babble that no one dare respond, for fear of seeming ignorant. It’s like the first day of an Intro to Physics class. The professor asks if there are questions, and everyone sits in terror.

In a half-century of this nonsense, only Ron Paul ever really dared to ask serious questions of the Fed. The main way the Fed avoids questions is to blind people with crazy statistics and complex analysis. One might say that the Fed’s management of the dollar is based on “extremely complex code understood only by a few.”

But no, this is what the Fed says of Bitcoin, an open-source protocol that anyone can download, examine, and critique, a currency that has its every single transaction logged in a public ledger in the cloud. Never in history has there been a more transparent money.

It gets better. Here is another example of the Fed “criticizing” Bitcoin. Recall that no government agency created Bitcoin. It was an invention of one person or team that wrote up the protocol for a perfect money and dumped it on an obscure Internet forum. Eight months later, it obtained a market value. Since then, it has grown and grown and is now being used all over the world. It has a market capitalization of $4.5 billion, and the exchange rate to the dollar shows ever increasing value.

This has all been accomplished without any third-party sponsorship or support from the state. That’s a bit embarrassing for an agency that claims to be absolutely essential for the management of the U.S. monetary and global empire. We could never abolish this wonderful institution!

So how does the Fed account for Bitcoin? “Bitcoin is free of the power of the state,” says the report, “but it is also outside the protection of the state.”

Scary! The writer presumes that everyone believes the state has been protecting the dollar! If you assume that 100 years ago, when the Fed was created, $1 dollar was worth $1, today it’s worth less than 5 cents.

In contrast, Bitcoin keeps going up in value relative to the goods and services it buys. That’s a pretty weird and unprecedented thing. In other words, if you hold Bitcoin, you actually see your wealth grow even without investing. That is the way sound money works. It is what the Fed decries as “deflationary,” a word that only means it gets more valuable.

The Fed assures us that “throughout most of Western history, the state has involved itself in money. At a minimum, the state has used money as a coordinating device, usually supporting its value by accepting it in the payment of taxes.”

You think being taxed feels like being robbed. The Fed says no. You are being taxed so the dollar will continue to have value. This is a restatement of the “valor impositus” position from the Middle Ages — a great lie from kings that they are the reason anything is right about the world.

It gets even weirder. The report adds, “One main function of money is to free a debtor from his or her obligations, tying money to an essential state function, the administration of justice.”

But actually, the effect of the Fed has been exactly the opposite. There is no way that the government could have racked up a crazy and unpayable $17 trillion debt without the Fed promising to print enough money to bail out the system no matter what. In fact, the whole reason the Fed was created in the first place was to allow the government to go into debt without facing market-based consequences.

In other words, the Fed has not freed us from debtor obligations, but rather imposed vast obligations on us and many generations to come.

The Fed offers one more big criticism of Bitcoin. Here again, the jaw drops. Prepare yourself for this broadside: Bitcoin has “a status of quasi-monopoly in the realm of digital currencies by virtue of its first-mover advantage.”

Yes, a quasi-monopoly. Maybe that should be considered better than the full-blown monopolistic cartel that the dollar represents. What’s next? The Federal Trade Commission needs to get in there and break it up? That would be a very amusing thing to watch.

Bitcoin is called the “honey badger” of currencies for a reason. Its march proceeds regardless.

There has never been a currency more resistant to control by government than Bitcoin. It lives on a distributed network. The feds could take down a trillion copies of the ledger, but it could live again as long as one copy survived. It is exchanged person to person, with no third-party involvement, making it even more resistant.

Plus, the use of cryptography to guarantee the integrity of transactions makes it almost impossible for outsiders to access the identity details behind transactions.

Indeed, this is the whole reason for the structure of Bitcoin. It was made to be state resistant. It was made to thrive without the intervention of a central bank. It has no single point of failure. Therefore, of course, it is driving the elites just about bonkers.

But if this is the best the Fed can do, the future is rather bright. I can’t think of any less plausible criticism than for the Fed to criticize Bitcoin — which the market has been free to accept or reject — as a secretive, complex, and cartelized system.

Meanwhile, Bitcoin is called the “honey badger” of currencies for a reason. Its march proceeds regardless. The supposed bubble and bust of this last March is already looking like growing pains. Even if you bought at the top, you would have already seen a 50% return on your money.

Bitcoin will continue to be misunderstood, smeared, attacked, and denounced. But you know what? Bitcoin just doesn’t care. Every month that goes by, it gets more popular, more useful, more accessible. Someday it could be the new world reserve currency, and it will leave these stuffy researchers in Fed palaces crying into their morning cappuccinos.


Jeffrey Tucker
for The Daily Reckoning

Ed. Note: On matters of money, the Fed’s hypocrisy knows no bounds. But what did you expect? Of course the Fed had to denounce Bitcoin, and for the very reasons it so vehemently supports the U.S. dollar. But nothing lasts forever, and when the tide changes on the current world reserve currency, you’ll want to be prepared. Signing up for the FREE Laissez Faire Today email edition is a good start. Every day Laissez Faire Today readers are treated to the most important essays on liberty and freedom the world has to offer. And it is completely free to sign up. Start getting your daily issues today, right here.

Original article posted on Laissez Faire Today


Nov 14, 2013 - 4:49am

French w/o Napoleon

"...the US has been exposed as being a patsy to Iran, and the French surrender afficionados have had to come to our rescue as having the only backbone in the group to stand up against the absurd surrender terms?"

Really? Is this real, I thought the French refused to go long and it was the French and Saudis who broke up an agreemnet.

The war mongering French have a very large jewish population, too. Maybe they have bought their politicians too, whatya know!

Nov 14, 2013 - 5:02am

@Spartacus Rex Too many times

have I heard the glass theory. It doesn't work as an argument. Seriously you think the Saudis haven't managed to pick a few of their own fission trinkets.

Having the Kaloti refinery up and running 6 months after the Hong Kong Merchantile Exchange opens is enough of a marker to see where the world is headed. There is enough reason to believe the Saudis are leveraging their wealth into a new system for them to survive, and with outside help they will achieve their goals. Using the FED to understand the machinations of what is the future was a good idea, but ultimately they know one day the USA will leave them to the dustbowl they were raised in. How does that play into their future? Only with partners are the Saudis going to keep their land and wealth, US bases dot the ME for this purpose, General Wesley Clark even declared it in an interview.

Video unavailable

The Chinese already have the other foothold at the FED, they really don't need Saudi support its the Turks, Russians and Indians that would gain the most from dealing with the Saudi Government. Just saying whom ever manages to deal with Syria gets a prize because this sets the stage for the next Kingship.

Nov 14, 2013 - 5:02am

Outstanding piece, CL

" Those people, of the regimes who were the hegemons of the time? Well, they went on living, as the economically powerful nations elsewhere rose and faded away, like the ebbing of the tide. Life just went on. Just like ours will, only differently."

That is classic.

Sorry to pollute the thread, but since this (among many) made me laugh out loud, I thought our Canadian and any non-Tweeting friends would especially appreciate it -- BTW, no need to log in, just go to this link:


Know why Rob Ford's really on front page of WSJ? Goldman, CITI, and are fighting for the right to hire him as chief party planner.

Yves Smith, from Naked Capitalism (and you know, I am ashamed to admit this is the first time I realized the double entendre of the proprietor being a female economist)

Yves Smith@yvessmith

Given the # of reg violations + scale of fines paid across the bank, please explain why the board hasn't been replaced by livestock? zerohedge@zerohedge 5h The NSA would like to thank all the volunteers in its experiment. Your contributrions have been duly noted and logged


Håvard | ノルウェー人@noruweijin Is paying 0,000 annually to Wen Jiabao's daughter a cost-effective way to buy influence in China? https://j.mp/18uCeOu

"Ms. Chang’s firm, which received a ,000-a-month contract from JPMorgan, appeared to have only two employees. And on the surface, Ms. Chang lacked the influence and public name recognition needed to unlock business for the bank.

But what was known to JPMorgan executives in Hong Kong, and some executives at other major companies, was that “Lily Chang” was not her real name. It was an alias for Wen Ruchun, the only daughter of Wen Jiabao, who at the time was China’s prime minister, with oversight of the economy and its financial institutions." DealBook, NYTimes


Unfortunate the fail will have absolutely no impact on their financial robberies but at least it allowed for folks a space to vent..

Oh my, the fun just never stops. Apparently over 80K Tweets went out with the hashtag.

Is it time for Jamie to take one for the team? Or is it bigger than just that, is the FRB potentially being thrown under the bus to (somehow) legitimize an ever bigger central bank? Between the WSJ story from Huszar, this debacle and routinely occurring revelations about banks and .gov, is there a point where this begins to register with the general populace?

"See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda."—Greece, N.Y., May 24, 2005

Catapult The Propaganda
Urban Roman
Nov 14, 2013 - 6:43am

An interesting detail of Bitcoin

The architects of BTC were attempting to make, from the ephemeral world of the internet, an adamantine little token that could not be corrupted by counterfeiting. A token that would therefore be constant, like a coin, as it passed from one hand to another.

The interesting detail is this: at the center of all the cryptographic authentication and verification, is a little string of bits, of 0s and 1s. It is called the 'nonce'. Your Bitcoin daemon, at its very heart, is verifying nothing at all.

Nov 14, 2013 - 7:09am

Oooh, this is gonna

Oooh, this is gonna sting……….click link for video Obama's law professor on his failures as president 2 hours ago Brazilian Roberto Unger is a leading political philosopher and an advocate of progressive politics. He has taught at Harvard Law School for about 40 years and US President Barack Obama was one of his students in the 1980s. Asked why he moved from welcoming Obama's election in 2008 to calling him a "disaster" for the Democratic party, Mr Unger told HARDtalk the president had failed to "come up with a sequel to Roosevelt's New Deal" of the 1930s. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-24931239

Nov 14, 2013 - 7:11am

Here is more from the guy

Here is more from the guy

Robert Mangabeira Unger - "Beyond Obama"
Nov 14, 2013 - 7:47am


I had an "Oh Shit!" moment this morning. My nephew is a Marine who was at Camp Pendleton. I spoke with my brother and my nephew is OK. I did not know he had left Camp Pendleton a week ago, but waking up to that news was pretty shocking.

I hate the fact that my Nephew, whom I love dearly, is a Marine. I respect the hell out of the courage that kid has, but I also know what he is fighting for and it tears me up. A very strange world we live in. I wish the best for my nephew and all the kids just like him in the military.

TreeTop Dweller
Nov 14, 2013 - 8:20am

Is It Really That Simple?

Big Daddy Hemp switches from Kitco to to GoldSeek.com and we go green for the A.M session?

Should have switched from kitco a long time ago!

Congrats TFMetals!

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