The currency price of one country gets stronger and/or weaker against another country's currency on a daily basis, but what exactly does that mean for those who don't trade in the forex market? Currency exchange rates affect travel, exports, imports and the economy. In this article, we'll discuss the nature of currency exchange and its effect on people and the economy.
Before delving into the topic in more detail, we must first establish a constant; for demonstration purposes we will be talking about the relationship between the euro and the U.S. dollar. More specifically, we will be talking about what happens to the U.S. economy and to the economies of Europe if the euro trades markedly higher against the U.S. dollar. The assumption we will be making is that US$1 will purchase 0.7 euros.
The Impact on Travelers
If US$1 buys 0.7 euros, U.S. citizens will be more reluctant to travel across the pond. That's because everything from food to souvenirs would be more expensive - about 43% more expensive than if the two currencies were trading at parity. This is an illustration of the effect of the purchasing power parity (PPP) theory.
However, under these conditions European travelers would be much more apt to visit the United States for both business and pleasure. American businesses and governments (via taxes) in the areas that European tourists visit will prosper - even if just for a season.
The Impact on Corporations and Equities
The impact that this scenario would have on corporations (particularly large multi-nationals) is a little more complex because these businesses often conduct transactions in a number of different currencies and tend to obtain their raw materials from a wide variety of sources. That said, U.S.-based companies that generate the majority of their revenue in the U.S. (but that source their raw materials from Europe) would likely see their margins take a hit on higher costs.
Similar pain would be felt by U.S. companies that must pay their employees in euros. By definition, these decreased margins would likely have an adverse impact on overall corporate profits, and therefore on equity valuations in the domestic market. In other words, stock prices may drop due to these lower earnings and forecasts for future profit potential.
On the flipside, U.S. companies that have a hefty overseas presence and draw in a significant amount of revenue in euros (as opposed to dollars), but pay their employees and other expenses in U.S. dollars could actually fare quite well.
European companies that generate the lion's share of their revenue in euros, but also source their materials or employees from the United States as part of their business, would likely see margin expansion as their costs and currency decrease. By definition, this could lead to higher corporate profits and equity valuations in some overseas stock markets. However, European companies that garner a significant amount of their revenue from the United States and must pay their expenses in euros are likely to suffer.
The Impact on Foreign Investment
Under these assumptions, it is likely that Europeans (both individuals and corporations) would expand their investment in the United States. They would also be better suited to make acquisitions of U.S.-based businesses and/or real estate. In fact, this has happened at several points in the past. For example, when the Japanese yen traded at record highs against the dollar back in the 1980s, Japanese firms made significant purchases of real estate - including the world-renowned Rockefeller Center.
Conversely, U.S. corporations would be less apt to acquire a European company or European real estate under US$1 for 0.70 euros scenario.
How Can You Protect Yourself from Currency Moves?
When planning a trip, check the most up-to-date currency conversion before you book your vacations so you can plan your choice of locations appropriately. (There are many ways of finding out local currency rates, including looking in the business section of your local newspaper, checking with a travel agency or searching the internet.) Incidentally, one of the best tips for travelers making purchases overseas is to use a credit card. The reason behind that is that credit card companies tend to negotiate the best rates and the most favorable conversions because they do such a high volume of transactions. These companies take out all the guess work for you, paving the way for smoother (and probably less expensive) transactions.
For small and large business owners operating in the U.S. that source some of their raw materials from Europe, one of the best moves can be to stock certain supplies if the price of the euro starts to climb rapidly against the dollar. Conversely, if the euro starts falling against the dollar, it may make sense to keep inventory at a minimum in the hope that the euro will decline enough for the company to save on its purchased goods.
The Bottom Line
Over time, currency values can vary quite dramatically. However, individuals, investors and business owners can take steps to mitigate risks and take advantage of such currency movements.