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The US dollar is strong but something is off

By Nicole Goodkind, CNN Business

The US dollar can’t be stopped. Fueled by the Federal Reserve’s aggressive tightening policy, the value of the greenback is appreciating to multi-decade highs and squashing currencies around the world.

Typically, it’s emerging-market countries that shoulder the burden of a strong dollar. That’s because developing countries have been encouraged by US policymakers, investors and corporations to tie their currencies to the US dollar. The strong dollar crushes poorer countries that must meet their debt obligations in dollars and rely on the US for food imports.

But something strange is happening during this ascent. The dollar is currently appreciating more against the currencies of rich economies than it is against those of emerging markets.

Investors looking for a nice return on government debt often turn to high-risk developing nations because they pay out high interest rates. When the Federal Reserve raises interest rates, investors realize they can get those payouts without the risk and move their money to the US instead. That boosts the dollar but sends the developing market currencies into freefall.

But central banks in emerging countries are also tightening this time around as developed countries keep interest rates relatively low, and so the rules have changed. That, plus heightened fears of war-induced recession in Europe have led investors to pour into the dollar.

Trouble ahead: The Euro is at a 20-year low against the greenback, and the British pound is at its lowest level against the dollar since 1985.

The Fed’s trade-weighted dollar index, which measures the value of the USD based on its competitiveness with trading partners, has grown by 10% this year against currencies of other advanced economies, its strongest level since 2002. By comparison, the dollar is up just 3.7% against emerging markets’ currencies.

The change is adding to a number of challenges already increasing inflation in Europe as the continent heads into winter with a looming energy crisis. Energy import prices in Japan are also growing, and worsening because of the dollar. The S&P 500’s top companies, most with a strong global footprint, also aren’t thrilled about all of this.

The cycle continues: Fed officials have said they’ll likely continue rate hikes into 2023, so there’s little relief coming. “The dollar could inch even higher if not countered by more assertive moves particularly by the European Central Bank (ECB), which meets this week to deliver a second rate hike to combat rising inflation within the Eurozone,” said Quincy Krosby, Chief Global Strategist for LPL Financial.

Bad for business: S&P 500 companies that have a global footprint also have to deal with the strong dollar making a dent in their revenue growth. About 30% of all S&P 500 companies’ revenue is earned in markets outside the US, said Krosby. During earnings season, a number of companies said that the strength of the dollar had already hurt revenue growth.

LPL Financial estimates that the strong dollar took 2 to 2.5 percentage points out of S&P 500 revenue in Q2.

The bottom line: The strength of the dollar should stop accelerating when the Fed stops hiking, said Krosby. But there are outside forces that could keep the USD’s value sky high even after the FOMC calls it a day: The current weakness of the euro and other currencies isn’t just about the Fed. It also reflects fears from investors of an impending recession in Europe. They’re flocking to the safe haven that is the dollar, at least for now. Expect the greenback to stay strong for a while.

What the Fed won’t say out loud .

The Fed is notoriously cautious with what it says. Billionaire investor David Rubenstein has some thoughts on what the central bank is actually after.

Rubenstein told my colleague Matt Egan last week that Fed Chair Jerome Powell wants a higher unemployment rate even if he can’t say so publicly.

“He can’t quite say this, but if the unemployment rate goes up to 4% or 5% or 6%, inflation will [probably] be tamed a bit,” Rubenstein said of Powell, whom he hired a quarter-century ago to work in private equity, “But he can’t come out and say, ‘I hope the unemployment rate goes up to 6%.’ That doesn’t sound politically very attractive to say that.”

The unemployment rate tumbled in July to 3.5%, tied for the lowest level since 1969. A jump in the unemployment rate toward 6% would translate to a sizable wave of layoffs.

“There will be a lot of job losses. The Fed isn’t going to publicly say, ‘We want job losses,'” said Rubenstein.

Rubenstein said Powell was a “very smart, hardworking person” but that he underestimated how bad inflation would be. “We sometimes think that the chairmen of the Fed are people who are gods,” Rubenstein said. “Alan Greenspan was almost a god. Paul Volcker was almost a god. But these people put their pants on one leg at a time. They make mistakes.”

Keeping up with private equity

Jerome Powell’s current notoriety can only be usurped by one person: Kim Kardashian. Now she’s entering his territory and coming to Wall Street.

Kim K. is partnering with Jay Sammons, a former executive with Carlyle Group, to launch SKKY Partners, reports my colleague Jordan Valinsky. The firm will invest in fast-growing businesses across several sectors, including hospitality, media and consumer products.

The pair will take both majority and minority stakes in companies, they told the Wall Street Journal. “The exciting part is to sit down with these founders and figure out what their dream is,” Kardashian told the Journal. “I want to support what that is, not change who they are in their DNA, but just support and get them to a different level.”

Momager to the stars, Kris Jenner, will also join SKKY as a partner.

Kim may be best-known for reality TV, but in recent years she’s proven her business acumen. Kardashian started Skims, an apparel business that’s valued at roughly $3 billion following a fresh round of fundraising earlier this year.

Here’s hoping there’s a Kim Takes Wall Street reality spinoff in our future.

Up next

RH and DocuSign report earnings after the bell.

Also today →

▸ Fed Chair Jerome Powell speaks at the Cato Institute at 9:10 a.m. ET.

▸ European Central Bank rate decision.

Coming tomorrow: China inflation numbers are out; the EU meets about the energy crisis; Kroger reports earnings.

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