The US dollar was the big story in 2007 - if you were selling it. Compared to 2001, the value of the dollar has gone down by 40 percent against the Euro. And values at the beginning compared to the ending of 2007 were significantly down: the dollar was down about 13 percent versus the euro, 10 percent versus the yen, and 8.5 percent versus the pound sterling. Its value was at such a record low that supermodels and popular rappers made public their preference for getting paid in Euro, no dollars, please. The US dollar did stop skidding towards the end of 2007, but the question now becomes: has the dollar bottomed out or will the slide continue in 2008?
Why the Dollar Weakened in 2007
The dollar seemed so weak in 2007 because the rest of the global economy continued to grow even as US growth stalled, due in part to steady demand from the Middle East, China and India markets. Countries acted more independently, as illustrated by the Australian central bank's decision to increase rates to stave off inflation at precisely the time the US Federal Reserve was cutting interest rates. Before December in fact, interest rate cuts happened only in the US. In short, some sort of decoupling occurred in the global economy, and this was a key factor to the strengthening of the other currencies and the weakening of the US dollar.
There are signs, as we begin 2008, that the phenomenon will no longer obtain this year and the global economy will again move more closely in step. In the latter half of 2007, economic growth in the UK and Canada slowed down indicating that the two countries were being weighed down by the weak US economy. In addition, the shock waves of the US subprime mortgage crisis have also shaken the financial markets of many countries, particularly the UK, where growth in the past years has depended on housing, mortgages, and the public sector. There are also signs of strain in the Eurozone, notwithstanding the ECB's hawkish position on monetary policy. The pressure to reduce rates will increase if growth continues to weaken further in the US or in other countries. The pressure already forced the UK Bank of England to cut rates in December and more cuts are forecast for 2008.
Interest rate cuts will be the thing to watch in the currency market. The US Fed has already lowered interest rates 100bp in 2006 and another reduction will be more in line with expectations; but if the Eurozone begins to lower rates, this would be a significant departure from current policy, which could signal a major change in the outlook for the euro.
Where US Economy Is Going
The big question is whether or not the US economy is going into a recession, which would seriously impact global growth. Majority of the American public thinks the economy is already in recession, according to polls released in December. Public perceptions notwithstanding, economists think otherwise. A Business Week survey on 54 economists in December showed that the group believes the country will reflect a 2.1 percent growth by the end of 2008 (it registered 2.6 percent growth in 2007). They believe that although the first half of 2008 will be difficult, consumer spending will not stop, albeit more restrained. Fundamentally, the forecast of no recession rests on the assumption that the Federal Reserve will continue its round of rate cuts. Although financial losses in the subprime sector will continue, consumer confidence will depend largely on the Federal Reserves actions to support economic recovery.
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