The decline of the dollar is not expected to drive up the price of a Toyota, hike the costs of foreign-made shoes and clothing, or turn up the price of televisions and other consumer electronics.
Despite the Reagan administration campaign to weaken the value of the dollar in order to make imported goods more costly to U.S. shoppers, American consumers aren't likely to see dramatic price jumps in foreign-made goods, most economists, retailers and importers predicted yesterday.
For the short term, they said, foreign manufacturers will willingly reduce their profit margins to keep their prices stable so they can maintain their share in the profitable U.S. market.
"I don't think you'll see a major run-up in prices," said Robert Hormats, a vice president of Goldman Sachs & Co. "If there is a change, it normally takes some time to be felt. And foreign suppliers will not allow prices to go up because they don't want to lose their share of the market.
"Prices should stay particularly stable in areas where there is substantial competition from American producers, such as cars and clothing," Hormats added.
However, in the area of consumer electronics, where there is declining competition from American firms, foreign-made goods may be more susceptible to price increases, he noted.
On Monday, the value of the dollar dropped by 4.29 percent against the currencies of its major trading partners, the sharpest decline against those currencies since 1973. The decline was precipitated by the Reagan administration's new, aggressive policy to bring down the value of the dollar against major foreign currencies. Its strength has been regarded as responsible for more than half of the estimated $150 billion trade deficit.
As part of its new policy, the administration won an unusual agreement with the finance ministers and central bankers of Japan, France, Britain and West Germany to intervene in the foreign exchange markets to drive down the dollar's value.
The dollar stabilized and gained slightly yesterday.
"It will be a long time before the so-called drop experienced in the last 24 hours will leave any kind of trace on international trade that concerns the world of retailing and consumer goods," predicted Kurt Barnard, president of Retail Marketing Report. "The impact will be more on our exports than our imports," allowing U.S. manufacturers to have a more favorable reception overseas with lower prices, Barnard said.
Foreign manufacturers yesterday agreed with this assessment. "In a nutshell, we don't see any major deviation in our prices in the short term," said Justin Camerlengo, director of news for Matsushita Electric Corp. of America, whose subsidiaries make Panasonic, Quasar and Technics consumer-electronic equipment.
"In the long run if the dollar decreases dramatically , there are a variety of ways we can attack the situation. It will be incumbent on our factories and operations to become more cost-effective . . . . It's astounding how creative we can get," Camerlengo said.
Foreign manufacturers should not find it so difficult to withstand any devaluation in the dollar, said one retailer who declined to be named. "To a large extent, they didn't lower prices when the value of the dollar strengthened. Their margins have improved as a result, so they should be in a position to absorb some of the reduction."
Yet, over the long run, some economists predicted yesterday, foreign manufacturers may be forced to hike their prices if the dollar drops by 20 percent or more against foreign currencies.
"We can expect higher rates of inflation down the road," said Cynthia Latta, a senior financial economist with Data Resources Inc. Predicting that the value of the dollar will decline another 10 percent for the rest of this year and an additional 10 percent next year, Latta said DRI expected prices on foreign-made goods to climb 10 percent in 1986 and 5 percent in 1987. That, in turn, will push the inflation rate up from 1985's expected level of 3 percent to 4.5 percent in 1987.
In the case of automobiles, if the value of the dollar drops 20 percent, "you will start to see some price increases," said Robert McElwaine, president of the American International Automobile Dealers Association, which represents American dealers who sell imported products.
As far as consumer electronics is concerned, industry officials say that the field is so competitive it is doubtful any decline in the dollar will drive up prices -- especially as ever-improving technology reduces production costs. Videocassette recorders are among the most competitive items now being sold because there is considerable excess capacity in the Far East, noted Richard Sharp, president of Circuit City Stores Inc. Although manufacturers already have shaved most of their margins to maintain their share of the market, Sharp doubted that a decline in the dollar would boost VCR prices. "It certainly would stop a downward trend . . . but prices might not go up," he said.
For clothing, fashion-oriented retailers say the dollar decline will have little impact on their sales because their customers are more interested in look than price. Besides, one retailer who declined to be named noted, fashion retailers have larger profit margins.
The retailers that would be hurt are discounters, for whom any price increase can affect business.
K mart Corp. Executive Vice President Robert E. Brewer agreed, noting that any dollar decline will "over time have an upward pressure on prices. But there is such a large lead time for placing orders, it won't be immediate -- maybe six to 12 months."
Manufacturers of big-ticket items, such as cars and consumer electronics, may be able to absorb much of the devaluation, but makers of inexpensive footwear and clothes, toys and small appliances that sell for $5 to $20 will have to raise prices, Brewer predicted.