You've likely heard of this scenario mentioned in an ominous financial forecast: The U.S. dollar continues to lose value compared to other major world currencies, and any number of very bad things occur, spelling doom for our fragile economic recovery.

But even though a low dollar world has a few deleterious side effects, it also brings benefits, and the latter can be profited on by investors who think ahead about where to place their assets. Today we'll discuss what makes the USD rise and fall, and where to position your investments to take advantage of a low dollar world.

Background
The U.S. Dollar Index is an exchange-traded instrument that measures the value of the USD against a basket of 6 major world currencies, including the Euro, Yen, British Pound and Canadian Dollar.

In the past six months, the U.S. Dollar Index has fallen by roughly 13%. This is a continuation of a longer term trend that has seen USD Index fall by 46% since 2001.

What Causes a Falling Dollar?
There is no single bullet theory as to why the USD has fallen, but most professionals point to several ongoing events. First, the strength of the USD is largely determined by how willing global investors are to hold investments denominated in dollars versus other currencies. The USD is often noted as the "world's reserve currency," meaning that foreign governments around the world often choose to park a good chunk of their reserves in dollar assets like Treasury Bonds rather than holding them in their home currency.

But if investors become skittish about the strength of the U.S. economy and our ability to pay our future bills (via Treasury interest), they will begin to shift assets away from the dollar. The rising budget deficit of the U.S. is one of many caution flags that is beginning to be noticed by global investors.

Another reason why the dollar has weakened this decade is because interest rates have been historically very low. The 10-year Treasury Bond, a benchmark for global fixed income investors, has seen its lowest yields this decade since the 1960's. These low yields aren't much of an incentive for global investors to buy U.S. bonds.

The Federal Reserve has had good reason to keep interest rates low; it was crucial in freeing up money flows in the face of a global recession. But as the economy stabilizes, look for the Fed to slowly begin to ratcheting up interest rates. As this happens, the U.S. dollar should begin to strengthen.
What Investments to Hold in a Low-Dollar World?
Commodities and other "hard" assets tend to do very well in a low dollar environment. The reason is twofold; hard assets are a safe haven when fiat currencies weaken, and most global commodities are priced in dollars. So foreign investors (whose currency has risen in value vs. the USD), can buy more with the same amount of money. This increases overall demand, leading to rising prices for things like gold, silver and oil. (For further reading, check out How to Invest in Commodities.)

Companies that are based in the U.S. but conduct a lot of business overseas make great investments in a falling dollar world. The reasoning is simple; costs to pay workers and produce goods are paid in dollars (which are weak), but goods are sold in foreign currencies abroad. When those higher-valued foreign currencies are translated back to dollars for the purposes of accounting, the favorable exchange rate adds to profit margins.

Investors can easily find out how much business a U.S. firm does overseas by reading the most recent annual report. Look for firms with greater than 40% of sales abroad, and having the bulk of factories and offices located in the U.S.

USD Outlook
The future strength of the dollar will largely depend on how well the U.S. government can control its budget deficit. The better the U.S. looks as a debt payer, the better the dollar will do. Use this as a guide to determine when it might be time to begin investing in dollar strength versus dollar weakness. (To learn more, check out What Fuels the National Debt?)

And when it comes to the dollar, a little inflation can be a good thing. As our economy strengthens, some inflation should begin creeping back into the system. This will trigger the Fed to start raising interest rates, boosting the dollar along with Treasury yields. When this trend begins to occur, look to shift away from the investments outlined above.

Parting Thoughts
A low dollar world will have some bad side effects, like more expensive overseas travel and higher prices of imports like gas and electronics. But savvy investors can make up the pennies being squeezed elsewhere by profiting from the many companies and assets that are taking a low dollar environment all the way to the bank.

Related Articles
  1. Investing

    3 Things About International Investing and Currency

    As world monetary policy continues to diverge rocking bottom on interest rates while the Fed raises them, expect currencies to continue their bumpy ride.
  2. Stock Analysis

    3 Risks U.S. Equities Face in 2016

    Find out why the probability of a U.S. stock bear market is increasing in 2016 and what the greatest risks are to the bull market that is almost 7 years old.
  3. Chart Advisor

    Watch For a Bounce in These Emerging Markets (BRF, PEK)

    While downtrends are clearly in control of the direction of many emerging market ETFs, short-term indicators suggest a bounce higher could be in the cards.
  4. Bonds & Fixed Income

    5 Fixed Income Plays After the Fed Rate Increase

    Learn about various ways that you can adjust a fixed income investment portfolio to mitigate the potential negative effect of rising interest rates.
  5. Investing Basics

    Valuation Models: Apple’s Stock Analysis With CAPM

    The capital asset pricing model, or the CAPM, estimates the expected return of an asset based on the systematic risk of the asset’s return.
  6. Stock Analysis

    3 Predictions for U.S. Stocks in 2016

    Read about predictions for the stock market in 2016. See how the energy sector and the biotech sector may be under pressure in the new year.
  7. Term

    Why Countries Keep Reserve Currency

    Central banks and financial institutions hold large amounts of foreign money as their reserve currency.
  8. Term

    Understanding Treasury Yield

    Treasury yield refers to the return on an investment in a U.S. government debt obligation, such as a bill, note or bond.
  9. Investing Basics

    What is an Indicator?

    Investors use indicators to measure economic conditions and forecast financial and economic trends.
  10. Economics

    A Brief History of U.S. Banking Regulation

    From the establishment of the First Bank of the United States to Dodd-Frank, American banking regulation has followed the path of a swinging pendulum.
RELATED FAQS
  1. What is Fibonacci retracement, and where do the ratios that are used come from?

    Fibonacci retracement is a very popular tool among technical traders and is based on the key numbers identified by mathematician ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. What are some of the most common technical indicators that back up Doji patterns?

    The doji candlestick is important enough that Steve Nison devotes an entire chapter to it in his definitive work on candlestick ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. Do mutual funds invest only in stocks?

    Mutual funds invest in stocks, but certain types also invest in government and corporate bonds. Stocks are subject to the ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Tame Panic Selling with the Exhausted Selling Model

    The exhausted selling model is a pricing strategy used to identify and trade based off of the price floor of a security. ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. Point and Figure Charting Using Count Analysis

    Count analysis is a means of interpreting point and figure charts to measure vertical price movements. Technical analysts ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. What is the relationship between the current yield and risk?

    The general relationship between current yield and risk is that they increase in correlation to one another. A higher current ... Read Full Answer >>
Hot Definitions
  1. Discouraged Worker

    A person who is eligible for employment and is able to work, but is currently unemployed and has not attempted to find employment ...
  2. Ponzimonium

    After Bernard Madoff's $65 billion Ponzi scheme was revealed, many new (smaller-scale) Ponzi schemers became exposed. Ponzimonium ...
  3. Quarterly Earnings Report

    A quarterly filing made by public companies to report their performance. Included in earnings reports are items such as net ...
  4. Dark Pool Liquidity

    The trading volume created by institutional orders that are unavailable to the public. The bulk of dark pool liquidity is ...
  5. Godfather Offer

    An irrefutable takeover offer made to a target company by an acquiring company. Typically, the acquisition price's premium ...
Trading Center