To help you wrap your head around the value of a dollar, let’s look at five factors:
1 The dollar matters a lot: The value of the greenback determines how competitive U.S. goods and services are on the world market.
You can see this in the dollar’s impact on how much we sell overseas and what our imports cost. The U.S. economy exports almost $2 trillion of goods and services a year. Each month, we import more than $200 billion worth of stuff, creating a monthly trade deficit north of $45 billion.
Many politicians talk about a strong dollar, but it’s mostly lip service. A weak dollar helps to create jobs by making U.S. products more price-competitive overseas. Indeed, many countries try to accomplish the same thing, creating a “beggar thy neighbor” policy. The global recession led to nearly every country in the world trying to export its way out of a slowdown.
Warren Buffett has noted that “in the years since I was born, the dollar has depreciated 94 percent. It’s 16-for-1 in terms of inflation.” But, Buffett went on to point out, you earn 16 times as much as you used to. Costs are relative to your earning power, and to investors, what matters most is the earning power of companies that sell goods and services.
2 Inflation and the dollar: Inflation, Paul Volcker said, is the cruelest tax. The soft dollar has contributed to rising inflation since former Fed chair Alan Greenspan took rates down to 1 percent in the early 2000s.
This is the price to be paid for making the dollar weaker to create those jobs. Commodities are priced in greenbacks. Most notably, food and oil are also dollar denominated. As the measuring stick (the dollar) gets smaller, commodity prices rise. When you see gas prices exceed $4 a gallon, and the costs of various foods rising, much of that is related to the dollar’s slide.
Rising food prices and higher energy costs are felt most harshly by lower- and middle- income consumers and by retirees living on a fixed income. When the prices of these essential rise, it eats into their discretionary spending.
Let’s not forget that metals are also priced in dollars — including gold. It is up 500 percent over the past decade, hitting $1,512 last week. This reflects a double concern: that the dollar is weakening, and that inflation is stirring.