The dollar sank Wednesday to its lowest level ever against the euro after markets took comments from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke...
BERLIN — The dollar sank Wednesday to its lowest level ever against the euro after markets took comments from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke as a sign that yet more U.S. rate cuts are on the way.
The 15-nation euro topped $1.50 for the first time since its 1999 introduction, then surged after Bernanke told the House Financial Services Committee that “the economic situation has become distinctly less favorable” since last summer.
The euro surged as high as $1.5143 after Bernanke’s testimony — well above the $1.4967 it bought in New York late Tuesday. It settled back to $1.5120 in late New York trading Wednesday.
Lower interest rates can jump-start a nation’s economy, but can weigh on its currency as traders transfer funds to countries where they can earn higher returns. Worries about the U.S. economy have helped drive down the dollar for months.
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Despite the roaring euro, growth is still on track in Europe and markets are optimistic that, should the U.S. go into recession, the Continent would be able to weather the storm.
The European Central Bank (ECB) has left interest rates unchanged since summer and is expected to keep them at 4 percent when it meets next week.
“The U.S. economy is still in a weak period, and we cannot estimate how long that is going to go on,” said Christoph Schmidt, an analyst with N.M. Fleischhacker Trading Bank in Frankfurt, Germany.
“The market is counting on the Fed lowering the interest rates even further and on the fact that the ECB is going to keep them where they are,” Schmidt said. He added that the divergent interest rates were “good for the euro and bad for the dollar.”
Neither the surging euro nor the British pound’s latest flirt with the $2 level will be kind to Americans visiting Europe.
“Oh, it’s affecting what we do,” Idaho resident Ray Tussing said in Paris. “We’re avoiding major restaurants because they are quite pricey to have a full dinner. And so what we’re doing is that we’re eating off of stands, we’re eating pizza — we’re eating smaller simpler things in order to try and keep our costs down.”
The dollar’s swoon makes shopping trips to the U.S. even more appealing for Europeans. It is less good news for their companies, since the high euro makes their goods pricier for overseas customers and can cut into their profits if they try to keep the dollar price of products constant.
But the weaker dollar could benefit U.S. companies, making exports more competitive abroad.
Howard Archer, the chief British and European economist for Global Insight, said that weaker U.S. growth prospects — coupled with the country’s current account deficit — will “exert a significant downward influence” on the dollar in the long term.
“In addition, there is the very real possibility that several countries could switch a proportion of their foreign currency reserves out of U.S. dollars over time,” he said.