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Dollar surge leaves trail of destruction

Dollar surge leaves trail of destruction

FILE PHOTO: U.S. dollar notes are seen in this November 7, 2016 picture illustration. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

LONDON : The dollar's race to two-decade highs is leaving a trail of destruction in its wake, exacerbating inflation in other countries and tightening financial conditions just as the world economy confronts the prospect of a slowdown in growth.

This year's 8 per cent gain against a basket of currencies is driven partly by bets that the U.S. Federal Reserve will raise interest rates faster and further than other developed countries, and partly by its status as a safe haven in times of turbulence.

It is also supported by Japan's reluctance to ditch its super-easy policies, and fears of recession in Europe.

Here are some areas affected by the dollar's muscle-flexing:

Graphic: FX returns this month - cent20returns1.JPG


Currency weakness normally benefits export-reliant Europe and Japan, but the equation may not hold when inflation is high and rising.

Euro zone inflation hit a record 7.5 per cent this month, although so far European Central Bank policymakers blame it mainly on energy prices.

Bank of Japan boss Haruhiko Kuroda still views yen weakness as a positive for Japan, but lawmakers fret that the yen, at 20-year lows, will inflict damage via costlier food and fuel. Half of Japanese firms expect higher costs to hurt earnings, a survey found.


A rising U.S. dollar tends to tighten financial conditions, which reflect the availability of funding. Goldman Sachs estimates that a 100 bps tightening in its widely used proprietary Financial Conditions Index (FCI) crimps growth by one percentage point in the following year.

The FCI, which factors in the impact of the trade-weighted dollar, shows global conditions at their tightest since 2009. The FCI has tightened by 120 basis points in April alone, as the dollar has strengthened 5 per cent.

Emerging markets tend to have especially high levels of dollar debt. EM conditions have tightened 190 basis points this month, led by Russia, Goldman's FCI shows.

The U.S. FCI is at its tightest since July 2020.

"It has got to be concerning, given everything else that's going on. This is just the time you don't want too much tightening of conditions," said Justin Onuekwusi, portfolio manager at Legal & General Investment Management.

Graphic : Borrowing costs - cent20costs.JPG


Almost all past emerging market crises were linked to dollar strength. A 10.5 per cent jump in 1993 followed by a 4.6 per cent rise in 1994 for instance were blamed for triggering the "Tequila crisis" in Mexico, which was followed by meltdowns in emerging markets in Asia, as well as Brazil and Russia.

Dollar strength means higher revenues in local currencies for commodity-exporting developing countries. But the flip side is higher debt servicing costs.

Median foreign-currency government debt in emerging markets stood at a third of GDP by end-2021, Fitch estimates, compared to 18 per cent in 2013. Several developing countries are already seeking IMF/World Bank assistance, and further dollar strength could add to those numbers.

Graphic : Emerging market currencies - cent20FX.JPG


The rule of thumb is that a firmer greenback makes dollar-denominated commodities costlier for consumers who use other currencies, eventually subduing demand and prices.

This year, however, tight supplies of major commodities have prevented that equation from kicking in as the Ukraine-Russia war has hit exports of oil, grain, metals and fertiliser, keeping prices elevated.

"When you see what's happening in Eastern Europe, it swamps anything the dollar is doing," LGIM's Onuekwusi said.


The Fed might welcome a rising greenback that calms imported inflation - Societe Generale estimates a 10 per cent dollar appreciation causes U.S. consumer inflation to decline by 0.5 per centage points over a year.

If dollar gains continue, the Fed won't need to tighten monetary policy as aggressively as anticipated; notably, the dollar surge of the past week has also seen money market bets on Fed rate hikes stabilise.

BMO Markets' analyst Stephen Gallo says if the Fed's trade-weighted dollar index were to break above pandemic-time highs - it is currently 2 per cent below that level - "that might be something that would be enough to cause the Fed to deliver a less-hawkish hike next week".

That might well mark the top for the dollar, he added.

Graphic: Fed funds target rate and the dollar cent20dollar.PNG

(This story refiles to add reporting credit. No change to text)

Source: Reuters


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