Slow growth and deficit stem lure of dollar

October 28, 2009

JaneFoley.JPG-Jane Foley is research director at The opinions expressed are her own.-

The U.S. dollar may have found support this week but the USD index remains at a 14-month low.

The impact of the financial crisis in drawing buyers to the “safe-haven” dollar has in effect been almost cancelled out by the healing in risk appetite. The dollar looks to have re-embarked on the downtrend that had been in place for more than two years prior to the start of the financial crisis, only now the U.S. fundamentals have arguably deteriorated further.  

Slow growth and a hefty budget deficit are likely to hamper the attraction of the dollar for some time.  That said, there is a huge invested political interest in ensuring that any further declines in the dollar remain orderly.

The weakness of the dollar has already prompted some Asian countries such as South Korea and Taiwan to intervene in order to prevent the appreciation of their currencies impacting competiveness.  This action can be viewed as a protest against the renminbi-dollar peg and a guard against losing competitiveness to China.

As the euro rises against the dollar, it is also rising against the renminbi and — spurred on by the actions of other Asian central banks — the chances are that it will continue to appreciate against a host of other Asian currencies.

Since the start of last year, the euro has risen by 37 percent against the South Korean won.  In recent comments, French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde stressed that she did not want to see the euro bearing the brunt of the downward adjustment of the dollar. 

The U.S. is still the Eurozone’s second largest trading partner after the UK suggesting that a move above EUR/USD1.500 cannot be welcome, but the pegging of the renminbi versus the dollar makes the downward adjustment of the dollar a far more painful experience for the Eurozone.

This is not the only objection to the renminbi-dollar peg.  The traditional objections relate to the huge US and Chinese imbalances which are evident in the ability of China to build-up huge foreign currency reserves largely denominated in dollars. 

Domestic policies which could lessen savings and promote domestic consumption are the usual prescriptions offered to China.  Higher government spending on social systems such as education and healthcare could offer part of a solution as this should limit the amount of savings viewed as necessary and boost consumption. 

Clearly a weaker exchange rate could be a significant part of the solution since this should limit export growth and promote demand for overseas goods.

Clearly China can not rush a move to a flexible exchange rate regime.  The Chinese authorities understandably fear that a quick move could prompt capital flight and undermine its banking system.  A fully convertible, flexible exchange rate must be a long term goal rather that a quick fix solution but China can expect to feel increased pressure to adjust its currency peg versus the dollar.

The renminbi and the dollar are of course linked in more ways than one.  China’s exchange rate regime can be blamed for exacerbating global imbalances which have undermined the value of the dollar.  It is ironic then that China, along with other creditor nations, now has an interest in supporting the value of the dollar in order to avoid a sharp depreciation in the value of its assets.  

Theoretically, the sudden, sharp rise in the U.S. budget deficit towards 11 percent of GDP this year, Obama’s difficulties in making progress with healthcare reform and projections for below trend U.S. economic growth at least through 2010 should be sending bond investors to run for the hills. 

The maintenance of good demand from overseas central banks for U.S. Treasury paper this year suggests that creditor central banks are continuing to play their part to ensure that the decline of the dollar remain orderly.  A move to EUR/USD1.55 may be further away than it seems.

One comment

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“In recent comments, French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde stressed that she did not want to see the euro bearing the brunt of the downward adjustment of the dollar.”

Of course not. What she wants is most of other major currencies also rise against the dollar. This way the US gets to depreciate its currency in a more controlled manner, a preferred course given the dollar MUST be depreciated anyway. Therefore it is the task of G20 to manage a coordinated currency rise against the dollar, so the their own competitiveness is maintained. Doing this requires the best of G19 wisdom. G19 because the US has already decided on a course of depreciation and it will do it with or without G19 cooperation.

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