The dollar continued a spirited recovery Tuesday from its historic lows of last week, as the national banks of several countries bought hundreds of millions of dollars, convincing traders that the leading industrial nations were determined to support the sagging U.S. currency.
The dramatic climb halted briefly when word spread of an ambiguous White House statement that the surging dollar appeared to be "stable," interpreted by traders as less than a clear endorsement of its rise. But the greenback resumed its comeback to close sharply higher in the United States, and the upward move continued in early trading this morning in the Far East.
Optimism in Markets
The dollar's performance spread optimism to the stock and bond markets, with the Dow Jones industrial average finishing up 16.25 points, to 2,031.50. The rise followed the Dow's 76-point gain on Monday, which also was aided by sharp gains in the dollar resulting from heavy central bank purchases. A stable dollar reduces the likelihood of inflation and makes U.S. stocks and other financial instruments appear safer to invest in.
Central banks in Japan, West Germany, the United States, Canada, Italy, Switzerland and Austria added fuel to the dollar rally with coordinated purchases of the currency, estimated to total $1.5 billion to $2 billion. Their actions had special impact because there already had been a growing sentiment among private speculators that the dollar might have reached at least a temporary floor.
"What they (the central banks) were trying to do was signal the market that this was a strong, concerted move--and that they planned to be successful at it," said Robert A. White, a vice president at First Interstate Bank Ltd. in Los Angeles. "It was a successful, well-timed move."
Gain of Five Yen
The dollar closed in New York at 127.80 Japanese yen, up nearly five yen from Monday. It finished at 1.6310 West German marks, up from 1.5885 marks on Monday. Earlier, in Tokyo--where large corporations and financial institutions have been a source of much of the recent pessimism on the dollar--the currency rose more than three yen to close at 124.80 yen. In Tokyo trading this morning, the dollar closed at 127.15 yen.
But, despite the dollar's robust performance Tuesday, its outlook remained highly uncertain in light of the financial community's deeply ingrained worries about the U.S. trade and budget deficits. There is also a perception that the Reagan Administration is not entirely committed to stopping its fall, because the lower dollar provides cost advantages to U.S. manufacturers.
A key factor propelling the dollar rally has been growing signs that the Group of Seven, comprising the leading industrial nations, was determined to protect the dollar from sinking much lower. But lingering doubts were dramatically reinforced Tuesday, when White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater, in answer to a reporter's question, said: "We have . . . wanted stability in the dollar, and it appears stable as of today."
The seemingly innocent remark disappointed speculators, who had hoped for a stronger White House commitment to bolstering the dollar. As news of Fitzwater's comment spread, the rally stalled, and the currency lost about 1.5 yen in addition to giving ground against the mark.
"If he (Fitzwater) wanted to make a reassuring statement, he could have said, 'We have seen the lows,' " observed Michael G. Papaioannou, a foreign exchange analyst for the WEFA Group, economic consultants in Bala-Cynwyd, Pa. "When the market didn't hear such a statement, they interpreted it to mean that tomorrow we may see a lower level."
Charles A. Spence, a vice president in the foreign exchange trading area at First Interstate, said: "Everyone was buying dollars, and suddenly the White House came out with a statement that the dollar was stable--as of today. Some people even sold dollars on his statement."
Purchases Impress Traders
The second consecutive day of extraordinary visibility in the currency markets by leading central banks impressed traders, some of whom have started to wonder if the dollar's value plunged too steeply against the yen and mark at the end of last month, when the currency skidded to levels not seen since the modern Japanese and West German currencies were established after World War II.
In the short term, the purchases of dollars by those banks can be effective because they threaten speculators who are counting on a continued plunge in the currency's value. But such central bank intervention typically has only limited influence, especially if the banks are trying to push a currency in the opposite direction from that in which the market is pushing it.
"Right now, the important question is how long will this (rally) last?" Papaioannou said. "I feel that it's going to be temporary."
He said that Tuesday's intervention of $1.5 billion to $2 billion was led by the Bank of Japan, with purchases of $500 million or more, the West German Bundesbank, with $250 million to $350 million, and the U.S. Federal Reserve, with $150 million to $250 million. An intervention of that magnitude, although possibly smaller than Monday's bank purchases, is several times the size of a typical move by the central banks.
Sentiment Still Bearish
"The bearish sentiment is still out there," said First Interstate's Spence. "The fact is that the budget deficits have not changed since last week and the trade deficits are still weighing on the dollar."
Despite the strong rally, the dollar remains at extraordinarily low levels compared to its modern peak, in February, 1985. Such low levels have revitalized a whole range of American export industries, by giving them cost advantages in conducting business abroad. At the same time, the plunging dollar has raised fears of inflation by forcing up the prices of foreign products sold in the United States.
There is no agreement on what the dollar is worth relative to the yen or any currency other than the verdict of the marketplace, a global network of trading rooms with instant electronic access to news from all financial centers. According to some analysts, the dollar is already priced too cheaply compared to the yen.
"Office buildings, consumer goods, everything--the prices are out of whack," said John S. Hekman, an economist at Claremont Economics Institute. "That's how we know the dollar is undervalued."
Those concerns are why some of America's largest trading partners now seek to prop up the dollar. On Tuesday, Japanese Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa told reporters in Tokyo that the major industrial powers are prepared to intervene in currency markets in response to rapid fluctuations in the dollar's relative value. Earlier this week, French Finance Minister Edouard Balladur said in a published report that the Group of Seven recently agreed on undisclosed steps to support the dollar if it falls below certain levels, presumably levels that it approached last week.
But, according to many analysts, such actions pale in influence compared to fundamental economic facts, such as changes in the stubborn U.S. trade deficit. "When we see changes in the long-term economic fundamentals, then we will see long-term increases in the dollar," WEFA's Papaioannou said.