Year-End Review Of Markets & Finance 2007: Time For Dollar To Turn The Corner?
The dollar had its worst year in recent memory in 2007, although currency experts say they believe the experience is unlikely to repeat.
As a housing crunch and credit woes gripped the U.S. economy, the dollar's long slide picked up speed, culminating in a record-breaking rout toward the end of the year.
In November, the dollar fell to a record low against the euro, a 26-year nadir against the British pound and a level not seen in a century versus the Canadian dollar.
In 2007, the dollar lost 7.5% of its value against a group of 26 currencies, according to a Federal Reserve trade-weighted index. The currency now stands at its lowest in a decade, according to the index. The dollar finished the year 9.6% weaker versus the euro and 6.4% lower against the Japanese yen.
Wondering whether the dollar's decline would end this year 'has been a bit like a long car trip with young children,' wrote Robert Sinche, head of global currency strategy at Bank of America Corp., in a recent report. The question repeated the most: 'Are we there yet?'
For Mr. Sinche and other currency experts, the answer seems to be 'almost.' While the start of 2008 could bring more rocky moments for the dollar, they said, later in the year the currency may start to rebound as the U.S. economy picks up.
Since late November, the dollar has steadied and strengthened somewhat as signs emerged that credit turmoil and slowing growth weren't only a U.S. problem.
The buck faced a host of troubles in 2007, starting with fears that the U.S. economy would slow sharply, and possibly contract. To ward off a recession, the Federal Reserve lowered its key interest rate three times, starting in September, after 15 months of holding it steady.
Interest rates, though, had acted as an important prop for the dollar. The Fed's cuts reduced the return that investors receive on shorter-term dollar deposits, making the dollar a less-attractive currency in which to park cash.
From the Fed's initial rate cut in September through to late November, the dollar was on an express train downhill. Investors could have bought euros in September when a euro fetched about $1.37, closed their eyes for a couple of months and done very well, said Paul Barrett, head of currency sales and trading at J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.'s Private Bank unit. In late November, one euro briefly bought $1.4967.
As the dollar's slide accelerated, new concerns emerged. Countries in the oil-rich Persian Gulf that peg their currencies to the dollar seemed on the brink of ending those arrangements. (One Gulf nation, Kuwait, already dropped its dollar peg back in May.) In November, the central-bank governor of the United Arab Emirates said the country had reached 'a crossroads' in its link to the U.S. dollar.
The prospect of countries breaking their pegs to the dollar put new pressure on the enfeebled currency. Six Persian Gulf nations met for a summit in early December but decided to leave their currency regimes unchanged.
Analysts say a change may still come in early 2008, because the peg makes local currencies artificially weak, spurring inflation through pricier imports.
The weak dollar hasn't been all bad news. It has bumped up the earnings of U.S. multinationals, because profits earned overseas in other currencies buy more dollars. It also has been a boon to American exporters because their goods become cheaper for customers abroad. In the third quarter, exports expanded at an annualized pace of 18.9%, the fastest rate since 2003.
There also are signs that the currency's slide is starting to whittle away at the country's massive gap between what it saves and what it spends. The size of the current-account deficit -- a broad measure of the country's trade and financial dealings with the rest of the world -- has shrunk for three consecutive quarters.
In 2008, much will depend on the state of the U.S. economy and its effects on the rest of the world. Currency strategists said they believe U.S. growth might begin to pick up in the latter half of the year as Europe begins to slow. That would move the interest-rate dynamic 'in favor of the dollar,' said Bankim Chadha, head of global foreign-exchange research at Deutsche Bank.
Another wild card for the dollar will be trends in global capital flows. In 2007, U.S. and foreign investors tended to find attractive opportunities overseas.
Toward the end of the year, though, several sovereign-wealth funds from Asia and the Middle East infused large amounts of cash into U.S. financial firms struggling with the fallout from a housing crisis. If continued, these flows could be positive for the dollar, because they indicate an appetite for U.S. assets.
On the other hand, global central banks still 'hold a lot of dollars that they would like to diversify into other investments,' said Alan Eisner, managing director at Millennium Global Investments, a London asset-management firm specializing in currencies. That is something that could continue to weigh on the currency during the next year, he said.
Some of the big winners against the dollar in 2007 included the Canadian dollar, which zoomed upward to reach parity with the greenback in September, and then kept going. In October, it briefly hit a level unseen since the 1870s, before retreating. The Canadian dollar finished the year more than 17% stronger versus the U.S. dollar.
Other strong performers included some emerging-market currencies, including the Brazilian real, the Turkish lira, the Thai baht and the Indian rupee, all of which gained more than 10% against the dollar. Some analysts said they believe the dollar will bottom out against major currencies in 2008 but continue to lose ground against Asian currencies.
美国银行(Bank of America)全球外汇策略主管罗伯特•辛切(Robert Sinche)在最近的报告中写到，人们忍不住反复探究美元的跌势今年是否将告终止，就像坐车长途旅行的孩子，他们一路上会不停地问大人：到了吗？我们到了没有？
从Fed首次降息的9月份至11月底，美元就像坐上了下坡的快车。摩根大通公司(J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.)旗下私人银行子公司的外汇销售和交易部主管保罗•巴内特(Paul Battett)说，投资者如果在9月份（欧元兑美元约在1.37美元）时买入欧元，那么即使此后两个月闭上眼不闻不问，到11月份睁开眼时也能看到不菲的进帐。11月底，欧元兑美元汇率一度升至1.4967美元。
展望2008，美元的走势很大程度上将取决于美国经济的状态及其对全球其他地区的影响。外汇策略师们表示，他们相信今年下半年美国的经济增长有望恢复活力，而欧洲经济或许会开始放慢步伐。德意志银行(Deutsche Bank)全球外汇研究部主管班克姆•查哈(Bankim Chadha)说，这种情况将使利率走向变得有利于美元。
而伦敦资产管理公司Millennium Global Investments的董事总经理艾伦•爱斯纳(Alan Eisner)指出，另一方面，全球各国央行或许希望将手中持有的大量美元资产分散为其他投资。他说，2008年这类情况可能会继续对美元构成压力。