This is the third and final installment of an interview on the outlook for the New Year.
Part 3. Forecasts for International Currency and Commodity Markets
Q – What is your forecast for the U.S. dollar? Do you think maintaining the strong dollar could ultimately help the U.S. economy, or hurt it?
A – The appreciation of the dollar against the euro and the yen in 2014 was precisely what we should have expected from the economic fundamentals: the strengthening of the US recovery at the same time that the euro and Japanese economies have been slumping and the end of US monetary easing at the same time that the ECB and the Bank of Japan have redoubled their efforts at monetary stimulus.
When trying to forecast exchange rates, one does well to recall the “random walk” principle. One is doing well if one gets the direction of movement right slightly more than half the time. Having said that, I would guess that the dollar is more likely to appreciate further in 2015 than to fall, for the same macroeconomic reasons as last year.
Would that be a good thing? Moderate appreciation of the dollar against the euro and yen is the natural concomitant of the monetary and real economic fundamentals. Europe and Japan need the stimulus of easy money and competitively priced-currencies. If the US recovery were to falter in the future, the Fed could reverse its plans to raise interest rates and the dollar in that case would probably come back down. But as of now, the US economy seems to be doing well.
Q -The oil price continues to fall to near $50 a barrel. How do you forecast the oil price for 2015 and beyond? How will it impact the world economy?
A – Among the reasons for the fall in the price of oil, of course, is the US shale energy boom (techniques associated with “fracking”). Even though the new shale activity will moderate at these low prices, its ability to resume relatively quickly will work to prevent oil prices from rebounding.
The price decline goes beyond oil. Mineral and commodity prices have also fallen over the last year, at least in terms of dollars. Disappointing levels of economic activity in much of the world are an obvious explanation. But the business cycle doesn’t explain why commodity prices are down especially in the US, where economic activity strengthened in 2014. The Economist commodity price index in 2014 was actually up in terms of euros; it was down only in terms of dollars, though that is what everybody focuses on.
The other factor is monetary policy: the end of quantitative easing in the US and renewed monetary stimulus elsewhere. That is consistent with some commodity prices falling in dollars while simultaneously rising in terms of other currencies. We could see more of this in the coming year.
I would say that oil prices and other commodity prices are more likely to continue falling in 2015 than to rise. To the extent that oil prices are down because of the fracking boom or because some of the worst geopolitical fears have not materialized, this is good for the world economy (even though bad for oil producing countries).