$US-FRF/Euro Exchange Rate vs. U.S. Balance of Trade with France

October 12, 2010

Continuing my series of examining the effect of exchange rate (or lack thereof) on trade imbalances, I’ll now examine France, America’s 8th largest trading partner (year-to-date in 2010).  This study of exchange rates vs. the effect on balance of trade couldn’t be more timely, given the escalating currency war that now dominates economic news.

France is a nation whose population density is more than three times that of the U.S. and is actually much closer to the population density of China.  Therefore, my theory of the effect of population density on per capita consumption would predict a trade deficit with France.  And that’s exactly what we have.  In fact, expressed in per capita terms, our trade deficit in manufactured goods with France in 2008 was almost exactly the same as our deficit with China.  (It fell in 2009, along with the rest of global trade, thanks to the recession.) 

But how has the deficit responded to changes in the currency exchange rate?  Until 1998, when France joined the European Union and adopted the Euro as its currency, the French currency was the franc.  So the following graph depicts changes in the value of each. 

$US-FRF&Euro Rate vs Balance of Trade

As you can see, in the 19 years covered by this data, the U.S. trade deficit responded to changes in the currency exchange rate as predicted by economists 11 times.  That is, the trade balance worsened when the exchange rate rose (when the dollar strengthened), or improved when the exchange rate fell (when the dollar fell).  However, overall, during this 19-year period, the net result is that the exchange rate with France remained basically flat.  Yet, the balance of trade with France worsened dramatically.  So, when examined on a year-by-year basis, the correlation between exchange rate and balance of trade gets a weak positive score of 0.58.  But the overall effect during that 19-year period indicates that there has been an opposite effect.  The overall trend has been toward dramatic worsening of the balance of trade between the U.S. and France, just as my population density theory would predict. 

So here’s an update of the theory correlation chart with France included:

Theory Correlation Score

Again, the population density theory continues to be a far better predictor of balance of trade than the exchange rate theory.  So far, of the 11 countries examined, there has been a strong correlation between exchange rate and balance of trade in only two cases – Australia and Colombia, both nations either less densely populated than the U.S. or about the same. 

Next up will be U.S. trade with Taiwan, America’s 9th largest trading partner year-t0-date in 2010.


Exchange rate data provided by www.oanda.com.

$US-DEM/EUR Exchange Rate vs U.S. Balance of Trade with Germany

August 17, 2010

Continuing our series of examining the effect of exchange rate on the balance of trade between the U.S. and its major trading partners, we now turn our attention to Germany.  Previously, we have seen that the effect of changes in the exchange rate on the balance of trade has been as economists would predict when the U.S. is dealing with countries roughly equal in population density or less densely populated – countries like Australia, Canada, Brazil and Colombia.  When the dollar falls, our balance of trade improves, and vice versa.  However, the predicted effect seems to break down when dealing with nations far more densely populated – nations like Japan and China.  Changes in the currency exchange rate seem to have no effect whatsoever or, if anything, yield the opposite effect.  That is, a decline in the dollar is more likely to result in a worsening of America’s balance of trade.  Or more likely, a worsening trade deficit yields a decline in the dollar, as economists would predict, but that decline is powerless to offset the effects of population density disparity and reverse the deficit, contrary to what economists would predict.

So let’s see what happens in America’s trade with Germany, another nation far more densely populated than the U.S., by a factor of 7.  Here’s a chart of the U.S. balance of trade with Germany vs. the exchange rate between the dollar and the Deutschmark (prior to 1998) and the dollar and Euro (following the adoption of the Euro in 1998). 

$US-DEM&EUR Rate vs Balance of Trade

In the case of Germany, there is no correlation, positive or negative, whatsoever.  Exactly 50% of the time, the balance of trade responded as predicted by economists in response to changes in the exchange rate.  But the other 50% of the time, changes in the exchange rate yielded the opposite result.  And look at the changes over the full period of time for each currency.  From 1990 to 1997, a small 7% rise in the dollar (from 1.61 DEMs to 1.73 DEMS) resulted in a 62% worse trade deficit – much worse than the small rise in the dollar would predict.  But from 1998 through 2009, a 21% decline in the dollar from .92 EURs to .727 EURs yielded only a 7.6% improvement in the trade deficit.  By far, most of that decline in the deficit was due to the global economic crisis that took hold in late 2008.  If we take away 2009 trade results, a 21% decline in the dollar actually resulted in a 40% worse trade deficit with Germany.  Were it not for the global economic crisis in 2009, we would conclude that the effect of a falling dollar is actually contrary to what economists predict. 

Here’s an update of the correlation tracking mechanism, with these results for Germany now included:

Theory Correlation Score

As you can see, a trend is taking shape.  When dealing with countries of similar population density, the correlation score tends to be greater than .5, indicating that changes in exchange rate produce the changes in trade balance that ecnomists predict.  But, when the trading partner is more densely populated (and the break seems to occur at about 2.0, when nations are at least twice as densely populated as the U.S.), the effect breaks down, and a weakening dollar has virtually no effect on reversing trade deficits. 

On the other hand, my theory of the effect of population density on per capita consumption and on trade imbalances has accurately predicted in all but one case so far (trade between the U.S. and Colombia) whether the trade imbalance would be a surplus or deficit. 

Next up:  Mexico.


Exchange rate data provided by http://www.oanda.com/