Globetrotting for a strong dollar
Believe it or not, there are nine other currencies that are doing worse than the dollar.
By Scott Cendrowski
When the U.S. dollar gained ground on the Euro and other currencies last year, glossy travel magazines celebrated the affordability of once-pricey locales. Cheap lattes in Paris!
A year later, with the financial crisis easing and investors no longer flocking to the dollar as a safe haven, Parisians are the ones enjoying trans-Atlantic bargains. Is there anywhere on Earth where the dollar is still strong?
Try Vietnam, where rooms in Ho Chi Minh City's five-star Windsor Plaza hotel go for $77 a night. Or Buenos Aires, where hip boutique hotels just minutes away from the city's all-night dance parties cost $110 a night.
As financial blogger Paul Kedrosky highlighted last week, only nine nations have seen their currencies fall versus the dollar this year, including Ghana, Jamaica, Argentina, Fiji, Pakistan, Algeria, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Kuwait.
The greenback's global weakness reflects the fact that the Federal Reserve spent and lent trillions to stave off depression, flooding the markets with dollars, and has kept interest rates near zero, which means investors can do better elsewhere. Overall, the dollar is down 14% since early March against a basket of major currencies.
Indeed, low interest rates have stoked a boom in the "carry trade" -- investors borrowing cheaply in the U.S. to invest in countries where yields are higher. In effect, these traders are selling dollars to buy other currencies, which helps keep the dollar down. NYU professor and economist Nouriel Roubini recently warned that the Fed's low-interest-rate policy and carry trade is helping to fuel bubbles in risky assets, both in the U.S. and abroad.
Roubini warned that when U.S. rates rise and the dollar appreciates, traders will rush to dump their investments, leading to another plunge in the markets.
Michael Woolfolk, senior currency strategist at Bank of New York Mellon makes a similar argument. "Interest rates are so low that the dollar's being increasingly used as a funding currency for the carry trade," he explains, "which is a temporary phenomenon."
Woolfolk and other currency specialists expect the dollar to continue its slide until the Fed raises interest rates, which Bank of New York Mellon forecasts to happen in February or March.
Until then, fans of the U.S. dollar will have to be content beating nine otherwise unremarkable currencies.