What a Weak Dollar Means for Consumers
May 23, 2011
The dollar has fallen almost 5 percent this year
The value of U.S. currency might seem trivial in the face of soaring gas prices and high unemployment, but the ripple effects of a chronically weak greenback impacts consumers both here and abroad. The U.S. Dollar Index, which tracks a basket of foreign currencies, has fallen almost 5 percent year-to-date. Despite a recent rebound, just last month it tumbled to levels not seen since the worst days of the financial crisis in 2008.
But how did the dollar drop to this point, and more importantly, how much should you worry?
The answer is complicated, but it has much to do with fundamental supply-and-demand dynamics, says
The Federal Reserve's bond buying programs have also had a hand in pushing the dollar lower by driving interest rates to all-time lows. While meant to reduce the cost of borrowing to spur economic growth, low interest rates have stunted yields on financial products such as bonds, reducing demand for investments denominated in dollars and weakening the currency.
"What we're seeing now is that other economies, as they come out of recession faster than we are and [are] experiencing more robust growth than we are, their central banks are starting to tighten and raise interest rates making those countries look more attractive," says
The specter of inflation also remains on investors' minds. "The Fed's bond buying created very low interest rates and created fear for many investors that future inflation will go up," Laurenti says. "Higher inflation expectations and lower yields on financial assets tend to bring weaker currency, and that's exactly what we are seeing for the dollar."
But investors aren't the only ones who have to worry about the impact of inflation. Consumers, too, are bound to see the cost of goods inching up if the dollar remains weak. Although weaker currency helps exporters by making U.S.-produced goods more attractive in the global market, it also makes imports more expensive. U.S. companies can only absorb those higher costs for so long before they start passing hikes on to consumers.
"If you buy goods from abroad and their price continues to escalate, sooner or later, those rising costs will need to be offset in
A weak dollar is a double-edged sword, says
While inflation officially remains at bay, consumers are already feeling the pain of price increases at the pump, due in part to the weakening greenback. Markets for resources such as oil, copper, and other commodities are largely denominated in dollars, says Laurenti, which makes them especially sensitive to movements in the dollar's value. "If the dollar is weakening, people will ask for higher prices in dollars for copper, oil, and iron because they need to offset the weaker dollar so that they can make the same money in their own currency," he says.
Rising prices among commodities directly feed into inflation because rising input costs for producers could ultimately push prices up for goods further downstream. Import prices have risen in the past several months, partly due to rising costs of oil and food. "What we're seeing right now is higher oil prices and higher commodity prices, and producers have to make a tough decision, either reducing their margin and taking the brunt of the hit or passing on those higher costs and risk having lower demand," says
Above all, there are winners and losers when it comes to a weak dollar. While U.S. producers exporting to foreign countries might see a bump in profits, back home, consumers will increasingly feel the pinch as their dollars don't go as far as they used to.
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