What Is the U.S. Dollar Worth?

CIO, Fixed Income

As U.S. investors continue to diversify their equity and bond holdings into markets around the world, they are beginning to realize that the value of foreign currencies against the U.S. dollar can have a significant impact on the total return of their investments. As a result, the links between trade and currency values are becoming increasingly important in the global economy. For these reasons, tracking the value of the U.S. dollar can be of paramount concern for global money managers. However, on any given day, the value of the dollar may increase against some currencies but decline against others. So what is a dollar actually worth? In 1973, the Federal Reserve (Fed) sought to create an index that tracks the value of the U.S. dollar against a basket of foreign currencies, selected and weighted based on the United States’ largest trading partners at the time. Before the advent of one-click access to international financial markets, the value of the currency was seen as a significant factor impacting the competitiveness of trade. Although the only change to the original U.S. Dollar Index occurred after a number of individual European currencies were combined to form the euro, the Federal Reserve created a series of indexes in the late 1990s that sought to create broader, trade-weighted measures of the dollar. In this regard, the Fed had evolved its thinking about how the value of the dollar should be tracked. Today, in our view, both trade and markets define the value and role of the dollar in the global economy. Its value continues to evolve with new economic relationships and changing market dynamics. Compared to the U.S. Dollar Index (DXY), capturing the value of the dollar against its primary trading partners alone diminishes the impact of capital flows in defining short-term foreign exchange (fx) movements. Balancing the relative impact of trade flows and portfolio flows may provide a truer sense of the value of the dollar in response to short-term movements and longer-term trends. An Evolving Index for a Changing World For many market participants and researchers, the U.S. Dollar Index was one of the most common metrics for assessing the value of the dollar against a basket of foreign currencies. But its inflexible methodology is hopelessly stuck in the 1970s. In many ways, this static methodology doesn’t seem very reflective of the realities of the current global economy. In 1973, the currencies in the basket contributed over 40% of the global output; today, that number is only 27%. In fact, some of America’s largest trading partners—such as China or Mexico—and some of the most liquid currencies in the world—such as the Australian dollar or the Korean won—do not appear in the Dollar Index at all. Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index (BBDXY) vs U.S. Dollar Index (DXY) BBDXY vs DXY In response to the evolution of the global market place, the Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index (BBDXY) attempts to proxy the value of the dollar against a broader basket of foreign currencies. In addition to identifying the largest trading partners of the U.S., it also conducts a screen for currencies with the greatest level of fx turnover. Not only does this make BBDXY more diversified and dynamic, it also provides an intuitive measure of the dollar in the global marketplace. Given that the index conducts an annual screening process to determine the weights and constituent currencies, BBDXY is able to incorporate changes in the evolution of the global markets. With emerging markets now accounting for nearly 40% of global gross domestic product (GDP), it is imperative that the value of their currencies be tracked against the U.S. dollar.     Ultimately, we believe that a dynamic approach should be taken to adequately assess the value of the U.S. dollar. By focusing not only on the most liquid global currencies but also on the largest trading partners of the U.S., the Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index provides a broad-based and intuitive approach to valuing the U.S. dollar against a basket of foreign currencies.

Important Risks Related to this Article

Foreign investing involves special risks, such as risk of loss from currency fluctuation or political or economic uncertainty. Investments in currency involve additional special risks, such as credit risk and interest rate fluctuations. Diversification does not eliminate the risk of experiencing investment losses.

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About the Contributor
CIO, Fixed Income
Rick Harper serves as the Chief Investment Officer (CIO), Fixed Income at WisdomTree Asset Management, where he oversees the firm’s suite of fixed income and currency exchange-traded funds.  He is also a member of the WisdomTree Model Portfolio Investment Committee and takes a leading role in the management and oversight of the fixed income model allocations. Rick has 28 years investment experience in strategy and portfolio management positions at prominent investment firms. Prior to joining WisdomTree in 2007, Rick held senior level strategist roles with RBC Dain Rauscher, Bank One Capital Markets, ETF Advisors, and Nuveen Investments. At ETF Advisors, he was the portfolio manager and developer of some of the first fixed income exchange-traded funds. His research has been featured in leading periodicals including the Journal of Portfolio Management and the Journal of Indexes. He graduated from Emory University and earned his MBA at Indiana University.