Mar 6, 2020 - Economy

The coronavirus outbreak could finally sink the dollar

Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

The dollar is buckling under the weight of expected rate cuts from the Fed and record-low U.S. Treasury yields.

The state of play: It has fallen to its weakest level when valued against a group of global currencies since the beginning of the year, and experts think there could be much further to go.

Why it matters: Multinational companies prefer a weak dollar because it makes U.S. exports cheaper overseas, but it also makes imported goods more expensive for American consumers and can push inflation higher.

  • Firms have shown a decreased ability to raise prices over the last decade, so a weaker dollar could instead put pressure on companies' bottom lines, hurting retailers and small businesses already reeling from the U.S.-China trade war and coronavirus outbreak.

What's happening: As Treasury yields sink further into record-low territory the so-called carry trade, in which traders buy dollars to benefit from U.S. yields being higher than in other industrialized countries like the eurozone and Japan, is starting to decline.

  • The Fed's surprise 50 basis point rate cut earlier this week has triggered increased expectations for more cuts, with Fed funds futures pricing U.S. rates about 100 basis points lower than their current level.

Watch this space: Yields on benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury notes again hit a record low, touching 0.92% on Thursday, less than 160 basis points above comparable German government debt, the European standard.

  • That's the narrowest the spread has been since July 2016. (Yields fell further Friday morning.)

Breaking it down: "There’s a belief that [U.S. and European rates] can converge or get pretty close to convergence pretty quickly because the Fed has suddenly become quite aggressive," Kathy Jones, chief fixed-income strategist at Charles Schwab, tells Axios.

  • Kathy Lien, managing director of FX strategy at BK Asset Management, points out that the European Central Bank and Bank of Japan already hold negative interest rates, "so even if they do move it’ll only be by about 10 basis points, whereas the Fed can cut rates significantly from their current levels."
  • "It's all about the expectations of future policy," Lien said.

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