CHICAGO – If high prices have forced you to give up Italian shoes, French wine or a vacation abroad, you should be cheering on the rising dollar.

Products from Europe have been getting increasingly expensive over the last few years because of the weak dollar, but the trend has reversed in the last month. If it continues, Americans will be able to buy more from places like Europe and Japan at cheaper prices.

Now, instead of needing $1.60 to get one euro, as you did in April, about $1.45 will do it.

If you like European vacations, you can hope that Bank of New York Mellon currency strategist Mike Woolfolk is right. He thinks the dollar is going to be even stronger in a year, perhaps allowing Americans to spend only $1.35 for a euro. In other words, a trip to Paris would come with a 15 percent discount.

Goldman Sachs agrees. In a report Friday, members of the company’s currency team said they think the dollar has bottomed and that its value will improve for the next couple of years.

If they are right, that could give Americans benefits much greater than cozy shoes or salads drenched in cheaper imported olive oil. The Goldman report said a more solid dollar could keep commodity and oil prices down and attract more foreign investment into the U.S. – perhaps giving a boost to the U.S. stock market.

“A weak dollar has been causing inflation pressure,” notes Bruce Bittles, chief investment strategist for Robert W. Baird. With a stronger dollar and lower commodity prices, “it will be like getting a tax cut.”

Until recently analysts weren’t expecting the dollar to strengthen. The common view was that the rest of the world was strong and would remain strong economically, while the U.S. – and consequently the dollar – struggled through a housing and credit crisis.

Now analysts are suddenly surprised by the dismal changes unfolding. Rather than being resilient, areas ranging from Germany and Japan to Canada are reporting weak numbers.

As a result, several foreign countries are expected to have to start cutting their interest rates as a way to prevent recessions. And since investors like bonds with high interest rates, the change in rates makes the currencies less attractive. Meanwhile, the U.S. has been cutting interest rates to fight off a credit crisis for months. So the U.S. is believed to be at a later stage in the process, perhaps poised to raise rates. That would make U.S. bonds, or the dollar, more attractive to investors. That’s good because ultimately it makes it easier for the U.S. to finance its debt.

Kasriel, meanwhile, is unconvinced the dollar will continue to strengthen.

“It is gaining by default,” rather than out of a strengthening economy, he said.

The U.S. remains troubled by too much debt, an issue that should weigh on the currency, he said. “Americans spent borrowed money on 5,000-square-foot McMansions, SUVs and a lot of spending at the government level, rather than investing in growing America.”

As analysts debate whether the dollar’s strength is longer-term or short-term, consumers should not expect an immediate impact when making purchases.

Meanwhile, Bittles thinks investors have already begun to react to the potential of a falling dollar. Recently, small-company stocks as a group have been performing better. The Baird strategist thinks that’s based on the belief that small companies will be able to buy the materials they need to produce products more cheaply from overseas.

Large multinational companies, which obtain a large percent of their profits overseas, may sell less as the stronger U.S. dollar makes the products more expensive abroad. In addition, Bittles says that as money from foreign sales is translated into U.S. dollars, firms will get less of a boost from currency than they’ve been getting.

There could be earnings disappointments, particularly from technology and industrial companies, he said.

Another possible result of the stronger dollar: It could make foreign acquisitions easier for U.S. companies.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.