the shrinking euro
This time a year ago, it cost $1.36 to buy a euro. It was $1.39 by March. The euro then moved sideways vs. the greenback until early summer–when it began an almost continual descent that has the EU currency now trading at just above $1.19. That figure is down 14% from the 2014 high, and off 12.5% from the year-ago level.
The surprising revelation last summer that the overall EU economy was slowing, not accelerating as most observers, myself included, had expected is the most important, I think. Sanctions against Russia and recent worries that a new Greek government might repudiate its sovereign debt have just added to the funk.
The Japanese yen has tracked more or less the same course vs. the dollar as the euro–meaning that neither Japan nor the EU has gained/lost competitiveness vs. its main global manufacturing rival.
Looking at the situation from a more conceptual level, both Japan and the EU have relatively old populations and both give much higher priority to preserving their traditional social order than to achieving economic progress. Neither characteristic argues for long-term economic/currency strength.
In the short run, currency declines stimulate overall economic activity. They also rearrange growth to favor exporters, import-competing industries and service industries like tourism. This means that local currency profits for firms that have their costs in euros and revenues in harder currencies will likely be higher than generally anticipated.
The huge fall in oil prices will still be stimulative, but the edge will be taken off the benefit a bit by the currency decline.
Euro-oriented holders of dollar-denominated assets benefit; dollar-oriented holders of euro assets are hurt.
I expect European bond managers will continue to boost their holdings of US Treasuries, figuring they’ll get both yield pickup and an anticipated currency gain. This flow will keep long-term interest rates in the US a bit lower than they would be otherwise.
Equity managers will shift European holdings more toward multinational firms with dollar-denominated assets and earnings. Some of this has happened already. Many times, though, PMs will wait until they see the weak currency stabilize before reallocating. Personally, I don’t think waiting makes any sense, but that’s what people seem to do.
US firms with European assets and earnings will face the double negative of slow growth in the EU and the diminished value of EU profits in dollars. I think US-based manufacturers of consumer staples are particularly at risk.
While the extent of the decline of the euro may be a surprise, the fact that it’s a weak currency shouldn’t be. This means many US companies that have euro exposure will have hedged away part of this risk.
I have conflicting thoughts on this issue. Almost universally, investors ignore profits gained by hedging. The idea, which I agree with, is that in short order the favorable hedges will run out, exposing the weaker unerlying profit stream. There’s no sense in paying for profits that will be gone in a quarter or two. On the other hand, while firms always reveal hedges that have gone wrong (and argue that investors should ignore these losses), they don’t always highlight hedging that has worked. I guess I’m saying that I’d be leery of companies with EU exposure even if reported profits don’t show any unfavorable impact.