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World Growth Eclipses Dollar as Concern for Lew, Manufacturers

Wednesday, 08 October 2014 10:24 AM

Most times when the dollar appreciates, the National Association of Manufacturers is quick to express its concern that a stronger currency will hurt exports. Now, it’s more worried about the state of the world economy.

A stronger dollar “is not helpful for our ability to sell exports to Europe,” Chad Moutray, chief economist at the Washington-based group, said in an interview. “But even more unhelpful is the fact that their economy is so fragile. The global economy is much weaker right now than we would like to see in terms of our ability to grow exports.”

That’s a view Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew is delivering to finance ministers gathering this week in Washington for meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. While the U.S. typically chides other countries for pushing down their currencies to boost exports, this time exchange rates will take a back seat to growth.

“It is wrong to get into exchange-rate competition for the purpose of promoting advantage, one over the other,” Lew said in response to questions yesterday at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. “On the other hand, we have called on many countries in the world to take decisive action to get their economies to grow.”

The dollar rose 7.8 percent against the euro last quarter and 6.7 percent against a group of 10 currencies, a movement that puts U.S. companies at a disadvantage by making their products more expensive overseas.

Right now, though, the largest U.S. manufacturers’ group has bigger things to worry about: If developed economies in Europe and Asia can’t jump-start growth, they’ll be less likely to purchase goods at any price from U.S. companies such as Caterpillar Inc., General Electric Co. or Boeing Co.

Downplaying Currency

That’s why Lew will probably play down the currency disparity in conversations with his counterparts, said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc. in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Europe and Japan “desperately need the boost from a weaker currency,” Zandi said. “This is exactly what should be happening and is a big plus for the global economy.”

European companies are already benefiting from the currency movements. Exports from Italy to the U.S. are up 10.2 percent this year through August compared with the first eight months of 2013, according to Commerce Department data released Oct. 3. German exports to the U.S. rose 10.7 percent, and French shipments climbed 6.5 percent.

The IMF cut its outlook for global growth in 2015 to 3.8 percent from a July forecast of 4 percent. The U.S. will expand 3.1 percent next year, compared with 1.3 percent for the euro area and 0.8 percent for Japan. China is projected to grow 7.1 percent, its lowest since 1990, according to IMF data.

Fed Speculation

The greenback is appreciating as Federal Reserve policy makers project they will start raising interest rates next year from a record-low range of zero to 0.25 percent. Median forecasts in Bloomberg surveys show increases versus the yen and euro through the end of 2015 as Japan and the euro area struggle to expand.

Regional Fed presidents including Atlanta’s Dennis Lockhart, New York’s William C. Dudley and Chicago’s Charles Evans have all said in the past month they are watching the dollar as officials debate the timing of the first interest-rate increase since 2006.

Deutsche Bank sees the dollar strengthening to $1.25 per euro by year-end, and to $1.15 in 2015, from $1.27 yesterday. It predicts the U.S. currency will rise to 120 yen in 2015, from 108 yesterday.

Further Appreciation

“I’m not terribly surprised by the appreciation of the dollar vis-a-vis the euro, and indeed it may well continue,” IMF Economic Counselor Olivier Blanchard said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. “It’s not crazy to think that if the U.S. becomes stronger relative to the euro and this continues, then indeed the dollar will appreciate, the euro will depreciate. In which case it is good news for the euro zone.”

The dollar would become a source of tension between the U.S. and other major economies if it were to rise another 10 percent, said Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute.

“We have seen a fairly rapid but not insane appreciation over the summer that basically reflects U.S. fundamentals,” he said. “I don’t see major downsides for U.S. growth from the magnitude and speed of the appreciation.”

An unexpected 10 percent advance may cut gross domestic product by 0.5 percentage point, according to Morgan Stanley.

GDP Reduction

In a Sept. 23 research note, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. economists said the dollar’s rise, if maintained, could reduce real gross domestic product growth by 0.1 to 0.15 percentage point in 2015 and 2016.

The rising dollar could hurt some U.S companies. Exports accounted for 1.4 percent of GDP in the second quarter, the most since the end of 2010.

Bank of America Corp. strategist Savita Subramanian estimates that a 5 percent rise in the dollar versus the euro results in a drop of about $1 for full-year Standard & Poor’s 500 Index per-share earnings, which she projects at $118.

Partly because of the dollar and the related decline in oil prices, earnings estimates have seen “one of the largest downward revisions over the last few years” aside from the weather-beaten first quarter of this year, according to Subramanian.

While global economic growth is a higher priority, the U.S. still complains when it suspects foreign governments are suppressing the value of their currencies.

Yuan Undervalued

Lew reiterated the U.S. view that the Chinese yuan is undervalued, and in a meeting last month with South Korea’s finance minister, he emphasized the importance of avoiding currency intervention. Those positions will likely be repeated when the Treasury releases its twice-yearly report on foreign exchange, which is due Oct. 15.

Back in 2004, when the euro cost $1.30, the manufacturers association decried the dollar as too strong. Though the currency is even more robust today, Moutray is more concerned about global economic fundamentals.

“The point is more than the exchange rate,” he said. “The real issue is that the European economy is struggling right now. We need a stronger Europe. We need a stronger China.”

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Most times when the dollar appreciates, the National Association of Manufacturers is quick to express its concern that a stronger currency will hurt exports. Now, it's more worried about the state of the world economy.A stronger dollar "is not helpful for our ability to...
world growth, economy, dollar, lew
Wednesday, 08 October 2014 10:24 AM
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