There has been much talk about the fall in the value of the Pound Sterling against the United States Dollar and the bastard Euro since Britain voted to leave the European Union. Without getting into the politics of it, what’s all this about, and what does it all mean?
To start with; the exchange rate, or foreign currency exchange rate, or Forex rate, measures the value of a base currency, (your own currency usually), against a foreign currency. Thus the $ / £ rate is currently about 1.22, which means one pound sterling gets you one dollar and twenty-two cents. The exchange rate is the price of one currency against another. Some people also use movements in exchange rates to measure the strength of a currency’s underlying economy. This is like measuring global warming by looking out of window at today’s weather. It’s a
piss very poor gauge.
However, long-term trends do tell you something ~ like the recent fall in the value of the pound could have been predicted years ago because of the amount of UK debt sloshing around. The fall in the value of the pound has very little to do with Brexit, and a lot to do with the UK government printing too much money for years, and years, and years…
A weak economy is the sign of a weak economy, and a weak economy is the sign of a weak nation. ~ Ross Perot
Ross Perot doesn’t know much about Forex either.
What does this mean to you and me? Well, for a start, the exchange rate tells you very little about how much your savings / salary / holiday money is worth in your preferred destination. For that you need to know about purchasing power parity. What this theory says is that my money still goes a hell of a long way in Orange County, California, USA. As an example, car rental and the price of petrol / gasoline, is still cheaper for me in the USA than it is in England. So is the cost hotels, eating out, and etc. I have suffered a potential windfall loss in the change in the price of the USD against GBP, but on the scale of things does that worry me? Nope.
Worrying about movements in currency exchange rates is a lot like worrying about what the weather is going to be like next week. It’s interesting, but pointless.
Forex rates do have an effect on people, but not in the way you’d think. Forex rates, interest rates, purchasing power, inflation, government fiscal policy, all these factors kind of mush together to create an amorphous mess that hardly anybody understands. So let me break it down for you.
- The man in the street and small businesses. Forex rates hardly affect you at all, in relative terms. When it comes to the cost of your vacation abroad the movement in exchange rates is a tiny proportion of your overall spend. Here in England stuff you buy at home may get slightly more expensive, but that’s really down to lying politicians and the bosses of big businesses using exchange rate movements as an excuse for price hikes. If exchange rates had gone the other way do you think things at home would get cheaper? Of course not.
- Businesses buying and selling overseas. Here the sterling / dollar / euro / yuan exchange rates actually mean something. It means stuff you sell in pounds sterling has become better value abroad, while product you buy abroad in foreign currency has become more expensive. So what? That’s what management is all about, and if you don’t understand Forex, why are you dealing in foreign currencies anyway?
- Multi-national companies. Forex rates affect the big multinationals not at all, it’s merely another variable in their international treasury management operations. When a multinational like Unilever says they have to increase their prices to UK supermarkets because of the fall in the value of the pound, they’re lying.
What really impacts on everyone is this purchasing power parity thing, and that’s a lot more complicated than just exchange rates. For example, the national minimum wage and cost of health care has a lot to do with purchasing power parity.
As far as governments, central banks, and politicians are concerned, they could care less about Forex rates. They may talk a good talk, and wring their hands from time to time, but they really, really don’t care.
What should you do about movements in foreign currency exchange rates?
- Don’t worry about it, because it’s as pointless as worrying about the weather.
- Don’t create translation exposure. Pay for stuff in your own currency, and if you’re selling abroad, then sell in your own currency ~ (if you can, if not consider forward currency cover). Don’t ever borrow money in a currency you don’t earn. Also, don’t save in a currency you don’t want to spend.
- Don’t buy complicated Forex products, (if you don’t understand it, don’t buy it), or pay for advice on exchange rates. In fact never, ever, pay for financial advice of any kind.
- Shop around. Buying or selling foreign currency is the same as buying and selling anything else. Spend a little while looking for the best deal. But beware, there are more crooks in this market than there are in the used car business.
- Forget exchange rates and look instead at purchasing power. If I can buy the exact same thing on Amazon.com in $ as I can on Amazon.co.uk in £ which is going to be the better deal? You know what? 99% of the time it depends on where I want it shipped to.
The true currency of life is time, not money, and we’ve all got a limited stock of that. ~ Robert Harris
Mostly, movements in foreign currency exchange rates are simple ~ they will affect you in ways you cannot understand, cannot predict, and can do nothing about, so forget it. For some people, foreign currency exchange rates are frighteningly complicated and dangerous animals, but given that these people usually work deep in the research engine rooms of the world’s biggest banks, it’s safe to let them get on with whatever it is they do, which is not a lot.