The U.S. dollar has dropped sharply against other major currencies over the past six months, reflecting not only economic problems at home, but a growing perception that the relative global economic power of the United States has slipped.

The onset of the crisis in the Persian Gulf also has shown that the United States has lost its traditional status as the world's main "safe haven" for money in troubled times, as a prosperous Europe has emerged as a competing secure area in which to invest.

Since the beginning of April, the dollar has dropped 19 percent in value against the Japanese yen and 11 percent against the German mark, boosting the cost of foreign goods to American buyers and making the United States a less desirable place for foreign investors.

One immediate impact has been to raise costs for Americans abroad who are paid in dollars, and for tourists who must cash travelers' checks for higher-priced local currencies. In Japan, a double room at a leading hotel priced at 27,000 yen costs an American tourist almost $210 today, compared with $170 six months ago.

As painful as the dollar slide is for tourists, a more important result is that it discourages the inflow of foreign capital that has been critically necessary to help finance the U.S. budget deficit. Michael Rosenberg of Merrill Lynch Capital Markets said in Paris that a poll showed 22 of 31 Germans and Swiss businesses, which normally invest heavily in the United States, "are keeping most of their money in Europe."

The caution is mirrored in Tokyo, where Michaya Matsukawa, senior adviser to the president of Nikko Securities, said, "There is an extreme slowdown in the purchase of foreign assets. The new feeling among Japanese investors is that they do not want to be exposed to foreign exchange risks."

"These are scary times," said New York investment banker Felix Rohatyn. "I don't remember in my 40 years in this business being as truly baffled and concerned as I am today."

Rohatyn said some companies and sophisticated individual investors are accelerating their purchases of German marks or Swiss francs in an effort to diversify out of dollar holdings.

And for the past year, according to Robert Hormats of Goldman Sachs International, Americans have been boosting their investment in foreign securities, reflecting both uncertainty over the American economy and the state of the dollar.

A recent report by the Securities Industry Association shows that net American purchases of foreign stocks and bonds hit a record $11.5 billion in the three-month period ending in June, up from $9.4 billion in the first quarter and $5 billion in the fourth quarter of 1989.

International trade is feeling the impact as well.

Paul Horne, the chief Paris-based international economist for the investment firm Smith Barney, Harris, Upham & Co., said British, German and other European firms are showing weaker earnings, largely because of reduced sales in the United States, much of which can be attributed to higher costs for their goods as a result of a falling dollar.

Americans are still buying many foreign-produced goods, however, and a cheaper dollar also adds to inflationary problems here because it makes imported goods more expensive -- essentials such as imported oil from the Persian Gulf, European machinery and Asian consumer goods, as well as luxuries such as French champagne and luggage.

Higher import prices also provide a convenient umbrella under which domestic manufacturers can boost their own prices.

The dollar's slide represents at least a partial reversal of the usual pattern of a stronger dollar at a time of military crisis. The time-honored belief in financial markets has been that the United States represented a "safe haven" for foreign investors in such circumstances.

"This is the first postwar international crisis in which the dollar has fallen rather than risen," Hormats said. "That shows the economic negatives of investing here outweighed the positives."

The shift in investment flows reflects not only a growing uncertainty about the domestic economy, but acknowledgment that economic growth in Europe and Japan is stronger than it is in the United States.

The Bush administration rejects the view that the dollar's slide is serious, but shuns on-the-record comments. Treasury Undersecretary David C. Mulford said a month ago at the time of the International Monetary Fund-World Bank meeting that the decline is "orderly."

An official, who would not allow his name to be used, said this week that analysis was still the administration view, and added: "There are earthshaking financial events going on, and within that, the most relatively stable piece of the puzzle is exchange rates."

But most financial market experts, while agreeing that the dollar decline has not been a rout, predict there will be a further drop over the next three to six months because the U.S. economy either is in or is about to enter a recession of at least moderate proportions, which will necessitate action by the Federal Reserve Board to lower interest rates, widening the gap with rates abroad.

"It's very aggravating to watch {the dollar} go down and down and down," said Deborah Bauch, who moved to Tokyo when the dollar was fetching around 154 yen. The dollar closed yesterday in New York at 129.05 yen and 1.5243 German marks. For the past several weeks the dollar almost daily has been reaching its lowest point against the mark for the past 45 years.

Meanwhile, as New York economist Henry Kaufman pointed out, neither the United States nor its partners in the Group of Seven major industrial nations -- committed to maintaining stable exchange rates -- have intervened in exchange markets to stem the decline.

Karl Otto Poehl, president of the powerful German central bank, said this week that he saw no reason to intervene in an effort to push the dollar higher. But in the first public sign of official nervousness, Japanese Central Bank Governor Yasushi Mieno said Thursday that the dollar may be falling "too fast."

One positive aspect of the dollar decline, from a U.S. perspective, is that it gives American manufacturers a price advantage for their exports, which could provide one of the few counter-recessionary forces on the current U.S. economic landscape.

Christian Blanckaert, president of an association of French producers of luxury goods, said he already has seen the impact.

"It means American producers of luxury goods are pushing harder than ever before," he said.

Brookings Institution guest scholar Robert Solomon introduced one note of calm into the dollar equation, suggesting that the dip may be reflective more of strength in the German and Japanese currencies than weakness of the dollar.

"I don't think we're seeing a flight from the dollar, but rather upward pressure on the German mark and the yen stemming from economic and financial conditions in those countries," Solomon said yesterday.

Japan has had a collapse of its stock market, and has boosted interest rates to curb the outflow of funds. That has helped strengthen the yen.

The German mark has benefited from expectations of higher interest rates, caused by rising expenditures to cover the absorption of East Germany, which is boosting the German budget deficit. Correspondent Paul Blustein in Tokyo and special correspondent Ethan Schwartz in Paris contributed to this report.