The Strong U.S. Dollar: Savior of the Global Economy?
The current global economic picture is characterized by volatility. And that volatility, to simplify somewhat, was brought on by the United States Federal Reserve’s interest rate increase last year and its switch from a policy of quantitative easing to a policy of quantitative tightening.
That, at least, is the theory of Stuart Bergman, deputy chief economist at Export Development Canada, who presented his case at the 2016 Country Risk Conference convened by the global trade credit insurer Coface earlier this month in New York.
In the wake of the global economic crisis of 2008, the Fed reduced interest rates to near zero and flooded the global economy with cash. The ensuing years saw emerging markets boom as commodity prices rose and investors flooded those countries with capital. Those investments were underpinned by strong emerging market currencies in places like Brazil and South Africa and the willingness of global financial institutions to accumulate debt denominated in those currencies.
On December 15, 2015, the Fed raised interest rates for the first time in ten years. That change in policy, and the Fed’s earlier tapered and eventually eliminating of its asset purchases in 2014, set off the cycle of volatility that the global economy is experiencing today, according to Bergman.
“Commodities got knocked and emerging market currencies got hammered,” on the mere suggestion of a change in Fed policy, said Bergman. “It became more difficult to carry $19 trillion in emerging market corporate debt that was dependent on relatively strong currencies.”
Billions in capital fled emerging markets, the first net outflow since 1998, according to Bergman. “When the first money leaves a market it creates a stampede for the exits,” he said. “That is the volatility we are seeing today.”
That volatility has had a severe impact on half the global economy. “Decreases in commodity prices have hit emerging markets hard,” said Bergman. “Export, corporate, and tax receipts are all down.”
The result has been much slower growth in emerging markets, from a 7.5-percent clip post crisis to four percent today.
What may eventually get the global economy out of its current vicious cycle is a virtuous cycle propelled by a strong U.S. dollar. It’s not here yet, as U.S. consumers have yet to put their money on the table and corporations are still sitting on big piles of cash.
“The strong dollar means global assets are on sale for U.S. companies looking to expand capacity,” said Bergman. “Eleven percent of global GDP comes directly from the U.S. consumer and 26 cents out of every dollar comes from consumers in OECD countries.
“Globalization pushed volatility to the far corners of the earth and globalization will get us out to this,” Bergman added. “Any divergence between developed and emerging economies can only be transient. Decoupling cannot persist as stable feature of a true global economy.”