Monday, April 20, 2015

Not Quite Like Before: The Dollar and the US Economy at Odds

 The dollar is currently rising through levels not seen since the mid to late 1990s. That of course was a time of great optimism, inspired by a wave of economic development and expansion, not just in the US but across the globe as a whole. Since then we’ve seen the dollar peak and drop to lows made just prior to the onset of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. Along the way, the tech bubble burst, the housing bubble burst, and finally the commodity bubble burst. The bubbles themselves representing the peak of the dollar, the accelerated decline, and reversal respectively over time. Now, the dollar is once again appreciating steadily versus the currencies of US trading partners.

On the surface, this looks like the US economy is standing out as a place where an investor can earn a reasonable return when adjusted for risk, as was possible in the late 1990s. With a few details missing this time of course. For starters, the economy is just not growing with the same enthusiasm as it did back then. Unemployment is not providing upward support for wages and consumption now as it did in the 1990s, while short and medium term inflation in not expanding providing support for interest rates and monetary. This much being obvious, the financial markets have been able to steady the course to higher prices for both stocks and bonds. Albeit, a sizable chunk of the financial asset price increases can be attributed to the mechanical requirements of administering the Federal Reserve’s Quantitative Easing programs by the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), the remainder can be attributed to investors underpricing risks of future price decreases by continuing to transact at the elevated price levels.

As with most aspects of human existence, this too is unsustainable. The complexity of the moving parts that influence the macroeconomic, and monetary equilibrium of an economy like that of the United States will undoubtedly continue to make deciphering a clear narrative a daunting task.

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