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Currencies

Donald Trump adds his voice to US currenct uproar, saying unlike treasurer Steve Mnuchin he wants a ‘strong dollar’

Mnuchin’s remarks in Davos shoved the dollar to a three-year low and sparked worries over a possibly ruinous currency war

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 January, 2018, 1:06am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 January, 2018, 4:16am

President Donald Trump waded into the uproar over the US currency Thursday, saying he wants to see “a strong dollar,” after comments by his Treasury secretary apparently signalling the opposite sent the dollar plunging to three-year lows.

In comments to CNBC, Trump said Steven Mnuchin’s remarks a day earlier, which seemed to favour a weak dollar to help US exporters, “were taken out of context.”

“Ultimately, I want to see a strong dollar,” Trump said, speaking on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

US Treasury Secretary Mnuchin’s ‘weaker dollar’ comment takes heavy toll on currency

Trump’s comment sparked a rally in the greenback which had hit a three-year low against the euro earlier in the day, although it was still off about 11 percent from before Mnuchin’s remarks on Wednesday.

“I think they were taken out of context, because I read his exact statement,” Trump said about Mnuchin.

In a nod to the sensitivity of currency markets to any such statements from officials, Trump added: “I don’t like talking about it because frankly nobody should be talking about it.”

In the wake of Mnuchin’s blunder, top world economic officials pushed back in Davos against fears of a currency war and stuck to a line that markets, not governments, dictate exchange rates.

Mnuchin himself used a press conference and panel discussion in the Swiss ski resort on Thursday to clarify that comment after it sparked concerns that America is abandoning its long-standing strong-dollar policy and wants a weaker currency.

He’s really just saying what a lot of Treasury secretaries have always been thinking
Ken Rogoff, former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund

“There are benefits of where the dollar is and there are costs of where the dollar is,” Mnuchin said during a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

“It’s not a shift in my position on the dollar at all. It is perhaps slightly different from previous Treasury secretaries” who have advocated for a strong dollar, he said, adding that he supports free and floating currencies.

Investors had interpreted Mnuchin’s remarks on Wednesday as a green light to sell the US dollar amid an aggressive push by President Donald Trump to ramp up the nation’s exports.

Trump landed in Switzerland early on Thursday to sell his “America First” manifesto on the world stage, days after slapping tariffs on solar panels and washing machines.

Mnuchin said the US government is not advocating for a trade war and is not deliberately talking down the dollar. But his comments have not stopped the currency’s decline, which continued slipping against most major peers on Thursday.

“I thought my comment on the dollar was actually quite clear,” he said. “It was balanced and consistent with what I said before, which is we are not concerned with where the dollar is in the short term.”

The remarks came after International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde called on Mnuchin to clarify his position, adding that now is not the time for a currency war.

“The dollar is of all currencies a floating currency and one where value is determined by markets and geared by the fundamentals of US policy,” Lagarde said in a Bloomberg TV interview.

Asked about Mnuchin’s comments, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi on Thursday said that advanced economies have agreed to refrain from deliberate currency devaluation.

Losses for the US dollar have mounted since Trump’s inauguration a year ago with the currency weakening against peers in the Group of 10 nations.

Lagarde noted that US tax reform signed by Trump last month is likely to lead to the dollar’s strengthening in the medium term.

UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond also weighed in, expressing ease with the value of the pound while noting the soft dollar is helping US exporters.

“Over the last few days we’ve seen the pound appreciate against the dollar quite rapidly, but it is stable against the euro. So we’re very happy with where the currency is at the moment,” he said.

Despite Mnuchin’s rebuttal, there’s a lingering suspicion that the Treasury secretary is content with the dollar’s weakness, according to Ken Rogoff, a Harvard University economics professor and former chief economist at the IMF.

“In the past, the Treasury secretary has always publicly said, ‘I want a stronger dollar,’” Rogoff said. “But privately they are perfectly happy when the dollar is falling at a slow rate because it makes American companies a little bit more competitive. He’s really just saying what a lot of Treasury secretaries have always been thinking.”

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