Just because bitcoin has quintupled in value over the past few months, that doesn’t mean the U.S. dollar is about to get knocked off its perch as the world’s leading currency, according to a top foreign exchange analyst.
For one thing, central banks around the globe own roughly $3.1 trillion worth of U.S. Treasury debt that is denominated in greenbacks, and so have little incentive to let the dollar lose power to a cryptocurrency, said Marc Chandler, chief market strategist at Bannockburn Global Forex.
“What stands behind [the U.S. dollar] is something that the crypto space has not yet innovated and that is that central banks hold their dollars in Treasury bonds — not just in dollars but they have these Treasury bonds behind them,” Chandler said on CoinDesk TV’s “First Mover” show Tuesday.
Chandler, whose storied career included stints as the top FX strategist at such leading financial institutions as Mellon Bank, HSBC and Brown Brothers Harriman, said his view is in line with those of regulators. He noted that Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell recently remarked that he sees cryptocurrencies as a potential substitute for gold.
But as a replacement for the dollar? Not so much.
“It doesn’t look like it’s really money,” said Chandler, “meaning a means of exchange, a store of value, and a unit of account.”
However, he said there’s one way he could change his mind.
“For me, the smell test of all this will be when tax officials, when the IRS says, ‘Yes, you can pay your taxes in crypto.’ Taxes seem to be the origin of money in many ways,” said Chandler. “When the IRS or some other major tax authorities say you can pay your taxes in crypto, then I’ll believe it’s money.”
Cyclical, not secular
While Chandler doesn’t classify himself as a dollar bull, he doesn’t see it losing its top spot, notwithstanding a recent weakening in exchange rates against foreign currencies.
“We’re having a correction,” he said. “The third big dollar rally since the Bretton Woods [Agreement of 1944] is over, but I think you can have a cyclical decline of the dollar without it changing its fundamental position in the world economy.”
Although central banks in countries such as China may be looking at digitizing their currencies, not much would threaten the greenback’s position, according to Chandler.
On the one hand, “a digital central bank currency increases what we call ‘the C3’: command, control and communication,” he said. “It allows the Chinese government to better monitor the flows of money…. It will help curb tax evasion, for example. It will help curb the underground economy, which in some countries is very substantial. At the same time, it will help bank people who are not banked yet.”
However, “I’m still not convinced that because you can have a digital chip on your cell phone that really only works in the Chinese system, that can take your digital RMB and buy something, like in the United States, or buy or settle or even trade with” a digital yuan, he said. “It’s possible at some point in the future, but it doesn’t seem likely anytime soon.”
Thus Chandler said he’s “not sure how much of a race this is or how urgent it is. It doesn’t look like Fed officials, while they are studying it, I don’t see them wanting to necessarily be the first mover.”
Nonetheless, “I think also there’ll be a two-pronged system, at least the way the U.S. and Western Europe are conceiving it, where you’d have the digital currency not really disintermediating banks; they’ll strengthen banks.”
The greenback has something else going for it cryptocurrencies don’t: the bond market, notes Marc Chandler.