The U.S. dollar Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2008

The U.S. dollar, still the benchmark for world currency, has been sagging the past several years. A detriment to U.S. consumers and U.S. companies that import products, the weakening dollar benefits some players in the global marketplace.

“Exporters will generally see their sales increase as the price of their product becomes cheaper in foreign currency terms,” says Gary Loe, vice president, foreign exchange at Comerica Bank.

Smart Business spoke with Loe about the weakening dollar, who benefits from it and why he expects the dollar’s value to increase as the year progresses.

What are some of the factors behind the weakening of the dollar?

Current economic factors that may be signaling recessionary conditions in the U.S. economy and could undermine confidence of U.S. dollar-based assets include the downturn in housing, turbulence in the equity markets and job woes. Additional interest rate cuts by the U.S. Federal Reserve could further erode the return of investors as lower interest rates may produce additional inflationary pressures, lowering the dollar’s value. Also, continued budget and trade deficits tend to weaken the U.S. dollar.

We are in an election year and increased political uncertainty could warrant a more cautious approach to holding assets based on the U.S. dollar. Lower oil prices could reduce demand for U.S. dollars, as oil is priced in U.S. dollars globally. More and more countries are diversifying away from the U.S. dollar as their principal reserve currency and are substituting the euro, pound, yen and others.

Who benefits from the weakening dollar?

Exporters will benefit from the weakening dollar. Mutual funds with overseas investments rise along with the currency they are denominated in as long as the funds don’t hedge against currency movement. People holding foreign currency accounts or notes will benefit as well as people holding gold; gold is priced in dollars across the globe and generally rises when the dollar loses value as buyers using other currencies drive up the price as it becomes cheaper. Also, our trade deficit should decrease as U.S. entity sales outside the country increase, and U.S. companies will buy less from foreign trading partners. The weak dollar is encouraging foreign manufacturers to set up factories in the U.S., bringing jobs and other economic benefits.

How does the dollar’s lower value help exporters?

The weak dollar makes American goods and services less expensive in the global marketplace. Therefore, exporters should increase their sales. The entities buying the exporters’ goods will be able to purchase them with fewer units of their own currency. Also, sales could increase as buyers shift purchases they currently transact with entities in other countries.

Do you expect this trend to continue?

In the long run, we should see the trend continue. The two major factors driving this are, one, the current account deficit — a broad measure of U.S. global trade and investment — and, two, the federal budget deficit. Experts don’t expect either to narrow significantly anytime soon, so in the long term, the dollar could very well keep falling.

What is your forecast for the dollar in the remainder of 2008?

There are many reasons why we could end 2008 with the dollar at a higher value than today. The U.S. Federal Reserve has made it clear that it wants to be ‘ahead of the curve,’ meaning it would rather risk a little inflation than bear the consequences of a recession. Unlike in the recent past, when interest rate cuts weighed on the dollar, new cuts may be viewed by the market as a monetary stimulus and spur investment, help correct housing imbalances and aid in minimizing the effects of a recession.

The dollar trend of the past few years, coupled with a stabilizing to improving equity market, will tend to encourage U.S. dollar demand (investment) as U.S. investments are bargains compared to anytime during the past few years. Higher oil prices (higher inflationary pressures) will tend to increase demand for U.S. currency. The upcoming elections could help the U.S. dollar as policies are re-enacted, amended or abolished. At the end of the day, foreign central banks will not want super-strong currencies, as it tends to diminish demand from the world’s largest consumer market — the United States — for foreign goods, which is needed to boost the rest of the world’s economies. I believe dollar positives will outweigh dollar negatives, and we will end the year with a slightly higher dollar.

How do fluctuations in the dollar’s value affect today’s global economy?

The U.S. has the biggest impact on the global economy and its monetary unit value, and fluctuation has the greatest effect relative to other currencies. The value affects company profits, budgeting and manufacturing costs. It has ramifications on capital investment, plant openings and closings. For example, some companies that have outsourced customer service and call centers to India have returned these centers to the U.S., since the weak dollar has eroded the cost benefits of operating overseas. It all underscores the importance of hedging currency risk to help mitigate variances from companies’ forecasts and plans.

GARY LOE is vice president, foreign exchange at Comerica Bank. Reach him at (800) 318-9062 or gloe@comerica.com.