Exchange Rate Dynamics & Currency Factors:

Top 5 Factors Affecting Exchange Rates

Exchange rates change by the second. Understand the dynamics that affect them.

Currency changes affect you, whether you are actively trading in the foreign exchange market, planning your next vacation, shopping online for goods from another country—or just buying food and staples imported from abroad.

Like any commodity, the value of a currency rises and falls in response to the forces of supply and demand. Everyone needs to spend, and consumer spending directly affects the money supply (and vice versa). The supply and demand of a country’s money is reflected in its foreign exchange rate.

When a country’s economy falters, consumer spending declines and trading sentiment for its currency turns sour, leading to a decline in that country’s currency against other currencies with stronger economies. On the other hand, a booming economy will lift the value of its currency, if there is no government intervention to restrain it.

Consumer spending is influenced by a number of factors: the price of goods and services (inflation), employment, interest rates, government initiatives, and so on. Here are some economic factors you can follow to identify economic trends and their effect on currencies.

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U.S. dollar strength

Read market commentary on how the U.S. dollar will perform against the euro and other major currencies based on these top 5 factors.

1. Interest Rates

"Benchmark" interest rates from central banks influence the retail rates financial institutions charge customers to borrow money. For instance, if the economy is under-performing, central banks may lower interest rates to make it cheaper to borrow; this often boosts consumer spending, which may help expand the economy. To slow the rate of inflation in an overheated economy, central banks raise the benchmark so borrowing is more expensive.

Interest rates are of particular concern to investors seeking a balance between yield returns and safety of funds. When interest rates go up, so do yields for assets denominated in that currency; this leads to increased demand by investors and causes an increase in the value of the currency in question. If interest rates go down, this may lead to a flight from that currency to another.

Official economic figures

Access more than 150 economic figures from the world's major markets. Latest figures are graphed against years of previous economic data.

2. Employment Outlook

Employment levels have an immediate impact on economic growth. As unemployment increases, consumer spending falls because jobless workers have less money to spend on non-essentials. Those still employed worry for the future and also tend to reduce spending and save more of their income.

An increase in unemployment signals a slowdown in the economy and possible devaluation of a country's currency because of declining confidence and lower demand. If demand continues to decline, the currency supply builds and further exchange rate depreciation is likely. One of the most anticipated employment reports is the U.S. Non-Farm Payroll (NFP), a reliable indicator of U.S. employment issued the first Friday of every month.

3. Economic Growth Expectations

To meet the needs of a growing population, an economy must expand. However, if growth occurs too rapidly, price increases will outpace wage advances so that even if workers earn more on average, their actual buying power decreases. Most countries target economic growth at a rate of about 2% per year. With higher growth comes higher inflation, and in this situation central banks typically raise interest rates to increase the cost of borrowing in an attempt to slow spending within the economy. A change in interest rates may signal a change in currency rates.

Deflation is the opposite of inflation; it occurs during times of recession and is a sign of economic stagnation. Central banks often lower interest rates to boost consumer spending in hopes of reversing this trend.

4. Trade Balance

A country's balance of trade is the total value of its exports, minus the total value of its imports. If this number is positive, the country is said to have a favorable balance of trade. If the difference is negative, the country has a trade gap, or trade deficit.

Trade balance impacts supply and demand for a currency. When a country has a trade surplus, demand for its currency increases because foreign buyers must exchange more of their home currency in order to buy its goods. A trade deficit, on the other hand, increases the supply of a country’s currency and could lead to devaluation if supply greatly exceeds demand.

5. Central Bank Actions

With interest rates in several major economies already very low (and set to stay that way for the time being), central bank and government officials are now resorting to other, less commonly used measures to directly intervene in the market and influence economic growth.

For example, quantitative easing is being used to increase the money supply within an economy. It involves the purchase of government bonds and other assets from financial institutions to provide the banking system with additional liquidity. Quantitative easing is considered a last resort when the more typical response—lowering interest rates—fails to boost the economy. It comes with some risk: increasing the supply of a currency could result in a devaluation of the currency.

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