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A weak dollar isn't good for everyone

There has been something of a consensus among novice economists recently that a weaker dollar is good for the U.S. economy since it makes U.S. goods cheaper in the international marketplace. That consensus was given a bit of a boost when U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said about as much to reporters in Davos.

“Obviously a weaker dollar is good for us as it relates to trade and opportunities,” Mnuchin told reporters in Davos, adding that the greenback’s short term value is “not a concern of ours at all.”

Currency traders and currency market experts aren’t so sure.

“It’s a complex question,” said Vassili Serebriakov, FX Strategist at Credit Agricole Corporate & Investment Bank in New York.A weaker dollar helps with international competitiveness. At the same time it could increase the cost of imported goods for consumers, and could increase inflation. There’s not a simple answer to that question.”

There’s also the matter of who benefits from the weak dollar.

Steven Mnuchin, United States Secretary of the Treasury, walks through the snow during the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Large, multi-national corporations benefit because much of their sales are made overseas and when they bring money back to the U.S. they can reap the rewards at a higher exchange rate. Smaller companies – and consumers – are a bit of a different story.

A weaker dollar “does make U.S. goods more competitive on the global market, so that is true,” said Omer Esiner, chief market analyst at Commonwealth Foreign Exchange in Washington.

“But when we look at the makeup of the U.S. economy, we import the vast majority of our goods and the U.S. runs massive trade and current account deficits. In that respect, a stronger dollar benefits consumers. And it’s a testament to a strong economy.”

In his broader comments, Mnuchin seemed to agree.

“Longer term, the strength of the dollar is a reflection of the strength of the U.S. economy and the fact that it is and will continue to be the primary currency in terms of the reserve currency,” he said.

That reserve currency status is unlikely to be in jeopardy right now, but like many of the Trump administration’s proposals, economists and market analysts say it bodes poorly for the health of the nation in the long run.

“A lot of these policies may benefit certain slices of America or some voters in the near term, but broadly speaking in the long term you could argue a lot of policies this administration is pushing for undermine the economy,” Esiner said.

Others were less kind in their assesment of Mnuchin’s comments.

“[W]e’re not sure a weak dollar is a good thing; prices of imported goods would rise here,” Greg Valliere, chief global strategist at Horizon Investments, said in a note to clients, also noting that it was highly unusual for a Treasury Secretary to make such a comment.

“It might be good for U.S. corporate profits but the massive tax cuts would seem to be enough stimulus for business. Perhaps Mnuchin was suffering from altitude sickness.”

Dion Rabouin is a markets reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter: @DionRabouin.

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