A Weak US Dollar Doesn’t Matter Folks!

People have been freaking out lately by a weak US dollar.  I’m here to tell you it doesn’t really matter.  Did you know that 60% of Americans have never left the country and less than 25% of Americans own passports?  Most of the 40% who leave come back, so it’s only a temporary amount of time when their purchasing power may be relatively hurt.

An even better statistic states that only 20% of Americans speak a foreign language.  Hence, where the heck are the 80% of Americans going to go if they can’t communicate with the locals?  Ok, so they may understand what “I want a double quarter pounder with cheese please” in English means, but we aren’t going very far if we can’t speak another language.  Sure a vacation is fine, but it’s not like we Americans are suddenly going to relocate overseas and establish roots.

If you are an American who makes a US$ denominated salary, buys US$ denominated assets like property, consumes Levi’s jeans, and never plans to leave the country, what are you freaking out about? The US Dollar can depreciate by 90% against the Euro, and it still wouldn’t really matter.  The government is crushing our currency on purpose and you know the government would never, ever, ever do anything to harm the people they serve.

INFLATION FEARS OVERBLOWN

Economic theory states that for every new dollar printed, inflation will rise by a commensurate amount, eventually.  You can read more about the IS/LM model at work here, but it’s boring as hell. The issue is that the output gap is running at 7-8%, so there’s still a ton of slack and you don’t have to worry about inflation.

Yes, it might suck that your BMW becomes prohibitively expensive in the short run, but in the long run, if European and other foreign producers desire to sell to the US, they will find ways to lower their prices accordingly.  In the meantime, shouldn’t you be buying American in this economy anyways?

You might argue that so much of the input costs of the final good comes from foreign labor and parts.  That’s true, but all you have to do is move down the cost curve in your consumption patterns.  Instead of buying the TV from Best Buy, you go to Costco.  Instead of buying the couch from Pottery Barn, buy from WalMart.

GOOD FOR EXPORTS

A weak USD helps US exports, making our goods cheaper to foreigners.  If we can’t sell goods at home due to a weak economy, what a blessing it is to sell to foreigners!  We dump our inventory on them, and make some money in the process!  The problem is the US is a relatively closed economy with exports as a % of GDP hovering at 11%, or #157 in the world compared to Singapore, at 173%.  In this regard, a weak dollar only helps a small percentage of the economy, but also  argues the point that we are a self sufficient country.

The most interesting exchange rate competition lies between the Korean Won and Japanese Yen.  Over time, you’ve seen Korea’s export economy resemble that of Japan’s export economy.  Toyota is matched up against Hyundai, while Sony battles with Samsung Electronics.  Korea’s export manufacturers are eating a lot of their counterpart’s bento boxes recently!

FUNDING OUR DEBT

Many fear that if the USD continues to depreciate, foreigners will stop funding our debt (buying our treasuries).  That could be true, but frankly, foreigners like the Chinese are STUCK with over $800bn in US treasuries!  If they stop buying our pitifully yielding 3.3% 10-year Treasuries,  their US Treasury portfolio is going to tank, and they are going to lose billions more!  Would you chop off your arm if you only had to chop off your pinky (accept lower rates)?

China can’t help but not continue funding our debt because it is one big “virtuous” cycle.  Americans need cheap money to leverage ourselves to buy cheap Chinese goods (we imported $340bn worth of Chinese goods last year), and China likes selling their cheap goods to us.  The world knows Americans are addicted to consumption and in a way, foreigners are like junket Casino operators who extend credit to addicted American gamblers.  One day we will have to pay back the loan, or face a big man in a dark alley ready to break our knee caps. But, for now, the USD will remain the reserve currency of the world as foreigners can’t live without our consumption power.

LET’S TANK THE US DOLLAR TO OBLIVION!

Let’s be very clear here.  The fear of a weak USD stems from the protectionist mentality of America’s business and political leaders whenever a recession hits.  A weak currency invites “foreign invaders” who end up purchasing more of our assets, goods & services which for some reason folks don’t like.

There’s also a pride issue for those who really care about our currency.  We’re embarrassed when we see that the USD no longer buys 100 Yen to the dollar.  But, who cares?  Honda Accords are made in the US anyway!  A weak US dollar is a symptom, not a problem. Get over it and start chanting, “USA, USA, USA!”

Summary: Most Americans only speak English, seldom ever travel to a foreign country, and can’t afford fancy BMWs and other foreign cars because they don’t make at least 10X the cost of the car.  As a result, a weak dollar is actually good for USA. Let’s go export industry!

Readers, do you agree with the thesis that a weak US dollar doesn’t matter?  If so, why do you think it’s necessary to have a strong US dollar?  And please, do mention how many languages you speak.

Regards,

Sam - “Slicing Through Money’s Mysteries”

Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship.

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Comments

  1. admin says

    David, sorry that came out wrong. It’s great you enjoy his views. I just encourage all of us to always question the assumptions and think for ourselves. We’re all right some of the time, until we aren’t! FS

  2. BG says

    @admin
    “We’re all right some of the time, until we aren’t!”

    Great quote! That goes into my list with:

    “Everything follows a trend, until it regresses to the mean.”
    “I don’t want a return ON my capital, I just want a return OF my capital”
    “If you had to live your life again, you’d need more money”
    “You have the same chance of winning the lottery, whether you play it or not”
    “Sometimes your best investments, are the ones you don’t make”
    “Where large sums of money are concerned, it is advisable to trust nobody.”

    • admin says

      BG – Not sure if that’s a compliment or a backhanded comment haha. Still not sure why people really think a weak dollar matters. You ever travel overseas? Do you speak another language? Do you spend a lot on foreign goods? Just wondeing. FS

  3. Roger says

    Not a bad perspective. Although, I think there are plenty of places the average English speaking American schlub could go without having to learn a foreign language. England, Australia, Canada (America’s hat); all have their own currencies and varying degrees of interconnectedness with the dollar (Australia’s actually already starting to come out of this downturn, much ahead of much of the Western world). All of that said, I don’t disagree with your main point, that it’s unlikely too many people are going to flee from the United States, and that for those of us who stay in the states, the effects of a weakening dollar are likely to not be that bad.

    • admin says

      Hi Roger – That’s true about all the other English speaking countries in the world. Australia is rebounding as evidenced by their latest rate hike. I just think America is just too much of a closed economy that it doesn’t really matter.

      I hear there will be a heavy rebuttal on this post from another popular website. I can’t wait! :) FS

  4. Mike Hunt says

    Hi Sam (hope that’s right),

    I’m an US Citizen who moved overseas to work in 2006, I still reference things to US dollars so when the USD goes down things do feel more expensive for me! I should add that currently I’m paid in a local country salary based on a fixed exchange rate to the US Dollar so when the dollar goes down my salary does go up slightly.

    The US is a net importer so when the value of the USD comes down then imports go up- many manufactured items are imported into the US so that will be effected.

    The big impact would be if the dollar dropped dramatically, as many items are priced in USD. I work making computer hardware and all our product prices are priced in USD so if the dollar gets very weak it’s a problem for us as we pay salaries (for my workers) in local currency.

    I would prefer a strong and stable dollar.

    But I’m not a typical American- I can speak some Thai, Spanish and can understand one of the regional Indian languages.

    As for countries getting into massive debt (like the USA now) look to your mother country of Japan- they have been stuffing themselves with debt for 20 years since the peak of 1989 and the market is still significantly lower than the peak. There has been pervasive deflation and multiple recessions in Japan and even today they are announcing a war on deflation . So there may well not be high inflation in the US. In fact the period of high inflation in the US was from 2001 – 2007 as home prices and commodities and food spiked up. Be careful loading up on debt right now!

    -Mike

    • admin says

      Hi Mike, thnx for your thoughts. You are not the typical American indeed, living abroad and speaking other languages.

      Funny you say that the period of high inflation was from 2001-2007. That was the period when the Fed Funds went to pretty much 0%, and the 10-yr treasury yield bottomed at around 3%. If there was inflation, rates would be high.

      So that’s the thing, if I do believe there will be inflation with all this monetary expansion, I’d load up on debt. Alas, I think inflation will cont to be benign, as it has been for the past 30 years.

      Sam

  5. Linda Keith says

    “We may have a gradual rise to 5-6%, but the days of double digit inflation are long gone due to the efficiency of cycles.”

    Gee, Sam, that is just what younger and less experienced loan officers said about five years ago when I warned that the economy would not keep going up, up, up! (I train lenders on credit analysis for business loans.) They said it was a new economic paradigm based on information, not manufacturing or agriculture.

    The experienced lenders in the room (and I) just shook our heads. Turns out we were right.

    On what do you base your assertion that inflation will only rise to 5-6%? And how does our efficiency of cycles deal with the deflationary challenge we just experienced (or perhaps are still experiencing)?

    As to the damage this does, a loaf of bread is $2 and a person who retired 15-20 years ago (my parents) with a fixed income has to eat. It was $.25 or so then. Gas at $4 is a much different proposition than gas at $1. You come across as a bit heartless when you imply that everyone can spend more because everyone is making more. Or blithely say thank goodness ‘grandma’ lives in the country because it costs less than the big city.

    Inflation hurts. And it steals from everyone. Savings and fixed retirement income loses purchasing power. That purchasing power belonged to someone…and now it doesn’t.

    • admin says

      Linda – Glad you were able to tell all your clients to sell all their assets and put everything in cash! Well done and no need to have any more clients any more b/c I assume you are very well off.

      If as you say we have a “deflationary challenge”, why do you think there will be inflation? That’s a contradiction.

      I continue to believe inflation will be as tame as a sleeping panda bear. The 10-yr yield won’t breach 5% in 2010, and you can take that to the bank. Feel free to take the other side and put a wager on it!

      Best, Sam

  6. Financial Success for Young Adults says

    I’m all for a weak or strong dollar. To be honest, as a currency trader, I don’t really care where it moves, just as long as it moves! I would have to say though that as a person who likes to travel, I may just have to start visiting countries where my dollar buys more. Who wants to go to Europe anyway?

  7. Daniel Rosenhaus says

    The sad part is, most of the people who read this aren’t the ones who need to be convinced of the point you are trying to and do make. The only way to increase demand for our products and services is by increasing demand from abroad for them and a lower value on the dollar is the best way to do this. I am all for it.

  8. Mike says

    I believe they are printing money in order to bail out banks and corporations. Inflation is also hurting food and gas prices. Food prices around the world are rising and contributing to the instability in the Middle East. We import more than we export. That won’t change until wages in developing countries are similar to those in the US. Fat chance on that happening any time soon. If you think the Gov’t will actually reduce debt then you are dreaming. The Healthcare bill will be a massive burn on the debt. Medicare, social security, and defense will not be cut. Gov’t programs will only grow and the debt will only rise. Nice idea, but I don’t buy it.

  9. My University Money says

    So is the joke now, “If you you owe China a million dollars and can’t pay you have a problem, but if you owe China 800 Billion dollars and can’t pay then China has a problem?”

    All joking aside, as a Canadian that lives near the US-Can border I can say with certainty that the towns close to the border are LOVING this dollar rate. Also, as a Canadian consumer I am loving it as well. Not only to get access to a much broader market of goods, but Canadian business now need to compete directly with their American counterparts and lower prices. It also makes American blue chip stocks ultra-attractive right now, because we are essentially getting them at a discount (relative to ‘average’) due to our dollar being at par with the USD.

      • My University Money says

        Actually a lot of people I know have been doing just this. Florida and Arizona have been popular options for many older people looking to become snowbirds. Personally, I have been exploring the Vegas real estate market. I think in terms of an investment it has to much of a pain-in-the-ass factor for me, but if your looking to build a home to live in for a large part of the year I think this will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Canadians.

  10. Darwin's Money says

    Personally, I don’t care about the weak USD for travel reasons and as an equities investor, of course it’s been adding a few percentage points to earnings each quarter for the multinationals I own. However, to think this trend can continue forever with no consequences is missing a major point – we do import many commodities – oil especially. See how much people were freaking out over $4 gasoline? What do you think $6 oil will do to the economy? High gas prices are a tax, no way around it. You’re not for raising taxes as a way to boost the economy, right? We’re also seeing food prices increase, clothing, and our much-needed electronics. Eventually, we do and will see inflation and slower growth.

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