Earlier this year the U.S. dollar reached a 10-year high compared to the currencies of its major trading partners*. However, the greenback has declined about 8% year-to-date through July. In this email we’ll explore what drove the U.S. dollar to record levels, how dollar weakness or strength impacts corporations and consumers, and what may lie ahead for the world’s most widely-held currency.
Many factors affect a currency’s strength or weakness. Some of these include interest rate levels, inflation, central bank policy, investor sentiment and the health of the economy. The U.S. dollar is unique in that it is the largest foreign exchange reserve, accounting for over 60% of global reserves. As a result, other countries’ need for reserves and investors’ fears or confidence also affect how much the dollar appreciates or depreciates.
Following the financial crisis, the U.S. dollar appreciated versus many other currencies due to its perceived safety and ultimately, a quicker U.S. economic recovery compared to its peers. This happened despite the Federal Reserve’s ultra-accommodative monetary policy in which it pumped trillions of dollars into the economy – an action that might normally depreciate the dollar due to an increased currency supply. Instead, the Fed’s actions helped lead the U.S. economy out of the financial crisis which helped support corporate earnings and sales growth. This in turn led to increased foreign demand for U.S. stocks and bonds. As U.S. dollars are required to purchase our stocks and bonds, growing foreign investment in U.S. securities led to greater demand for the greenback, and subsequent dollar appreciation.
During the last ten years of dollar appreciation, we’ve experienced both positive and negative effects. On the positive side, a strong dollar makes traveling abroad more affordable for U.S. citizens and effectively lowers the prices consumers pay for imports. As consumers account for roughly two-thirds of U.S. GDP growth, the savings gained on lower-cost imports due to a strong dollar can lead to significant gains in disposable income, all else being equal.
On the downside, a strong dollar may hinder tourism in the U.S. and could result in weakened demand for U.S. exports as those goods become relatively more expensive for foreigners. Another drawback is negative foreign currency translation for U.S. multinational companies. U.S.-based firms that earn revenues abroad will have to exchange foreign currencies back to U.S. dollars at a less favorable rate. This acts as a headwind to sales and earnings growth, and contributed to the recent “earnings recession” we saw among companies in the S&P 500 Index in 2015 and 2016.
In contrast, recent U.S. dollar weakness has started to help boost corporate earnings growth and could be a support for stocks going forward. While it’s impossible to know if the dollar’s strength will continue to moderate, a few factors suggest it might. One is an improving global economic outlook relative to the U.S. The U.S. economy was a bright spot in the early years following the last recession, but emerging market economic growth is gaining ground and European GDP growth recently outpaced U.S. GDP growth. Another factor is that the Federal Reserve has shifted to a less accommodative monetary policy stance. Ordinarily this would support further U.S. dollar appreciation (via a reduced supply of dollars and higher interest rates attracting foreign investors); however, investor concerns that restrictive monetary policy could slow down the current economic expansion are outweighing the shift in the Fed’s policy stance.
Considering the above factors and given several years of strong gains, recent U.S. dollar weakness could continue. While there are pros and cons to a depreciating dollar, we would welcome the shift as this would help reduce import costs for consumers and businesses, while supporting sales and earnings growth for U.S. multi-national corporations.
*Powershares DB US Dollar Index Bullish Fund (UUP) – compares US dollar to euro, yen, pound, loonie, Swedish krona and Swiss franc
The Parsec Team