How long can the U.S. dollar defy gravity?

Source : http://www.reuters.com

February 24, 2010 - (Reuters) The only time the U.S. dollar ever took a serious shellacking in the marketplace, the wounds were almost entirely self-inflicted.

Facing mounting inflation and the escalating cost of the Vietnam War, President Richard Nixon, on August 15, 1971, took the United States off the gold standard, which had been in place since 1944 and required that the Federal Reserve back all dollars in circulation with gold.

The move amounted to a made-in-America double-digit devaluation, shocking the country's foreign creditors.

Deep inside the New York Federal Reserve Bank's fortress in lower Manhattan, Scott Pardee, then 34, was fielding frantic calls from central bankers around the world. They were demanding the United States cover the foreign exchange risk on their reserves.

"The whole roof came in on us," recalled Pardee, a former New York Fed staffer who is now an economics professor at Vermont's Middlebury College. "That is the kind of situation the U.S. doesn't want to be in."

Nearly 40 years later, the dollar still dominates world trade. At the height of the financial crisis in 2008, investors fled to the dollar as a temporary safe haven. But the dollar has been falling steadily since 2002, and as the world economy recovered last year, dollar selling resumed, reviving doubts about how long it could remain the world's unrivaled reserve currency.

The Greek debt crisis, which has sent investors stampeding back into the U.S. currency, has provided a reprieve. The dollar has gained some 10 percent against the euro since December. And following the Fed's decision last week to hike the discount rate it charges banks for emergency loans, the dollar rose even higher as some investors bet it would benefit from the eventual end to the Fed's post-crisis regime of easy money.

But a number of economists, investors and officials here and abroad interviewed for this story say the longer-term prognosis is far from rosy.

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