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Which Companies and Markets Will Suffer Most from a Strong U.S. Dollar?

Stock-Markets / Financial Markets 2015 Feb 09, 2015 - 12:56 PM GMT

By: Money_Morning


Since 2008 the U.S. dollar has risen against every important currency in the world.

Its steady ascent has been good for a lot of companies, economies, and investors.

But, if the trend continues, a strong U.S. dollar in 2015 will be bad news for some of those same companies, economies, and investors. Worse, it could trigger a global markets meltdown….

Here Are the Recent Developments

Here's the good, bad, and ugly saga of the dollar's steady appreciation

Heading into 2008 the dollar was under-valued and slipping against most major currencies. Then, when the Federal Reserve frantically printed dollars to flood banks and capital markets with liquidity during the credit crisis, the dollar strengthened, flying in the face of conventional wisdom.

The spreading crisis panicked global investors, who turned to the U.S. as a safe haven, trading their currencies for dollars to buy U.S. Treasuries. That began the dollar's rise.

With nearly every major economy affected by the Great Recession, any country with anything to sell planned to export its way back to growth.

Of course, the fastest way to make exports more competitive is to make them cheaper to buy. That began a "race to the bottom" where countries were pushing their currencies down by selling them and mostly buying dollars.

Meanwhile, back in the States, the Federal Reserve was flaunting its zero interest rate policy, or ZIRP, making borrowing in U.S. dollars relatively cheap.

Fast forward to today.

The Downside of the Mighty Dollar for U.S. Companies

The dollar is the strongest currency in global trade and the U.S. economy is recovering while most other nations are struggling.

A strong dollar and a growing economy attract capital. That means the dollar is likely to continue to appreciate against other currencies. Plus the Federal Reserve is one of the few central banks talking about raising rates. If or when the Fed raises rates, the dollar will appreciate even more as international investors seeking yield sell other currencies to buy dollars.

Too bad the saying is true: you can get too much of a good thing.

The continually appreciating dollar is starting to weigh heavily on some companies, economies, and investors.

U.S. exports, which have been robust, are starting to become "expensive." Additionally, U.S. companies earning revenues overseas are seeing less actual revenue on their books when they "translate" non-dollar denominated sales into U.S. dollars. This is a practice they must follow according to generally accepted accounting principles, or GAAP.

Big U.S. companies listed in the S&P 500 index get slightly more than 40% of their revenues from global sales, and they're starting to lower future guidance accordingly.

Procter & Gamble Co. (NYSE: PG) recently warned currency translation in 2015 would reduce its profits by at least $1.4 billion. United Technologies Corp. (NYSE: UTX) slashed 2015 sales estimates by $1.5 billion, citing the strong dollar. And drug giant Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE) expects currency impacts will cut $2.8 billion out of 2015 revenue.

When Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) earnings came out softer than expected and the company warned about currency issues, investors sold MSFT stock down 9%, knocking a whopping $35 billion off the company's market capitalization.

According to Thomson Reuters, analysts' January estimates for 2015 sales gains of 1.3% and profit gains of 4.3% have been knocked down already. They just dropped sales growth estimates 61.5% due to currency impacts, and are now calling for only .5% sales growth. They lowered profit growth estimates almost 22% to 3.3%.

U.S. equity markets could see some profit-taking after reaching an unprecedented series of highs as earnings forecasts get ratcheted down and companies express currency concerns in their forward guidance.

Unfortunately, the prospect of a U.S. stock market correction pales in comparison to what's brewing in emerging markets.

The Most Troubling Factor Abroad from a Strong Dollar

The really ugly truth is the ever-rising dollar could trigger a crash in emerging market equities, bonds, and loans, and ignite global contagion on a frightening scale.

According to the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), emerging markets account for half of the world economy. And they've been loading up on dollar-denominated debt.

The BIS says Chinese non-bank borrowers owe more than $1 trillion in dollar-denominated debt, that's up from $200 billion in 2009. While $1 trillion is a lot of debt, the BIS calculates it as only 4% of total Chinese debt.

Emerging markets collectively have $5.7 trillion in outstanding dollar-denominated obligations. That breaks down to $3.1 trillion in bank loans and $2.6 trillion in bonds. While not historic highs, the numbers are troubling.

What's worrisome is the rising dollar makes debt service increasingly expensive as it takes more and more local currency to buy dollars to make interest and principal payments. At the same time debt service burdens are increasing, emerging market countries' economies are slowing down as the cyclical growth spurt they enjoyed from China's emergence has peaked.

We saw what happened in 1998 when emerging markets' dollar pegs snapped and foreign capital exited: Russia defaulted, Thailand's currency crashed, and contagion entered our vocabulary.

We saw how quickly emerging markets and investments in emerging market stocks got hit in 2013 when the Federal Reserve first mentioned the word "taper."

If you didn't understand why EEM stocks dropped on the word taper, you understand now. Rising rates in the U.S. will strengthen the dollar in the face of every other currency.

King dollar has always been the pride of America, until the dollar began its long slide.

Now, with the King back on his throne, emerging markets may have to bow to their lenders and beg for some dollar-denominated debt forgiveness.

If they don't get it, EEM defaults could unleash contagion and another ugly global downturn.

Source :

Money Morning/The Money Map Report

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