LONDON – The US dollar is hitting new 12-year highs almost daily, while the euro seems to be plunging inexorably to below dollar parity. Currency movements are often described as the most unpredictable of all financial variables; but recent events in foreign-exchange markets seem, for once, to have a fairly obvious explanation – one that almost all economists and policymakers accept and endorse.
French President François Hollande, for one, has ecstatically welcomed the plunging euro: “It makes things nice and clear: one euro equals a dollar," he told an audience of industrialists. But it is when things seem “nice and clear" that investors should question conventional wisdom. A strong dollar and a weak euro is certainly the most popular bet of 2015. So is there a chance that the exchange-rate trend may already be overshooting?
In one sense, the conventional explanation of the recent euro-dollar movement is surely right. The main driving force clearly has been monetary divergence, with the Federal Reserve tightening policy and the European Central Bank maintaining rock-bottom interest rates and launching quantitative easing. But how much of this divergence is already priced in? The answer depends on how many people either are unaware of the interest-rate spread or do not believe that it will widen very far.
Last year, many investors questioned the ECB's ability to launch a bond-buying program in the face of German opposition, and many others doubted the Fed's willingness to tighten monetary policy, because doing so could choke off the US economic recovery. That is why the euro was still worth almost $1.40 a year ago – and why I and others expected the euro to fall a long way against the dollar.