Are U.S. exports about to get hammered by the rising dollar?

The U.S. Federal Reserve may be trying to keep a steady hand as it plans an exit from the policies deployed in response to the economic crisis, hinting that it may slow down its bond purchases “later this year” but offering no guarantees.

What will currency fluctuations mean for U.S. exports? (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

What will currency fluctuations mean for U.S. exports? (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

But for investors around the world, the great unwinding has begun, with sharp swings in different world bond and stock markets as money is shifted in response to the likelihood of higher interest rates and possibly stronger economic growth in the U.S.

Currency markets are moving too – and it may mean a further drag on U.S. exports that are already stuck in neutral.

Nomura currency analyst Jens Nordvig noted the dollar’s rise in recent weeks against the currencies of major developing nations – a jump of about 2 percent in the last two weeks alone.

After Fed chairman Ben Bernanke’s press conference on Wednesday, the dollar started climbing against major developed nation currencies as well – rising nearly a percent against the euro and the British pound, and around 1.5 percent against the Japanese yen. The dollar index, measuring its value against six other major currencies, rose 1 percent Wednesday and was up another 0.5 percent Thursday.

If that global trend continues, it makes U.S. products – from soybeans to trucks and airplanes – more expensive overseas at a time when the Obama administration is banking on international sales of American goods to generate jobs.

Exchange rates don’t have a one-to-one effect on the prices of final goods. Global companies use different strategies to protect against currency swings, and many firms rely on imported parts and other inputs – which get cheaper when the dollar is stronger, offsetting the impact of a rise in the value of the currency.

But it is another example of why the change in Fed policy is being so closely watched and has officials and investors more than a little concerned about the fallout.

U.S. exports have already been struggling for growth, rising just 1.7 percent between May 2012 and April 2013. Europe is in recession, and the Chinese economy is slowing – dimming potential sales in two important export markets.

For years now, the Fed has been an expansionary presence in the economy, helping offset, for example, the drag on economic activity from the federal sequester.

Now, the “genie of the end of QE…is out of the bottle,” Nordvig said.

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