Factors that influence currency exchange rates are important for various reasons. For countries, these factors can affect how one country trades with another. For individuals, these factors affect how much money one can get when exchanging one currency for another. Although it is not always easy to understand, track, or even anticipate these factors, it pays to know them, especially if you are interested in foreign currency. It is worth noting that these factors affect currency exchange rates at a macroeconomic level, meaning they affect global currency exchange rates and not local exchange rates.
Inflation is the relative purchasing power of a currency compared to other currencies. For example, it might cost one unit of currency to buy an apple in one country but cost a thousand units of a different currency to buy the same apple in a country with higher inflation. Such differentials in inflation are the foundation of why different currencies have different purchasing powers and hence different currency rates. As such, countries with low inflation typically have stronger currencies compared to those with higher inflation rates.
2. Interest Rates
Interest rates are tightly tied to inflation and exchange rates. Different country’s central banks use interest rates to modulate inflation within the country. For example, establishing higher interest rates attracts foreign capital, which bolsters the local currency rates. However, if these rates remain too high for too long, inflation can start to creep up, resulting in a devalued currency. As such, central bankers must consistently adjust interest rates to balance benefits and drawbacks.
3. Public Debt
Most countries finance their budgets using large-scale deficit financing. In other words, they borrow to finance economic growth. If this government debt outpaces economic growth, it can drive up inflation by deterring foreign investment from entering the country, two factors that can devalue a currency. In some cases, a government might print money to finance debt, which can also drive up inflation.
4. Political Stability
A politically stable country attracts more foreign investment, which helps prop up the currency rate. The opposite is also true – poor political stability devalues a country’s currency exchange rate. Political stability also affects local economic drivers and financial policies, two things that can have long term effects on a currency’s exchange rate. Invariably, countries with more robust political stability like Switzerland have stronger and higher valued currencies.
5. Economic Health
Economic health or performance is another way exchange rates are determined. For example, a country with low unemployment rates means its citizens have more money to spend, which helps establish a more robust economy. With a stronger economy, the country attracts more foreign investment, which in turn helps lower inflation and drive up the country’s currency exchange rate. It is worth noting here that economic health is more of a catch-all term that encompasses multiple other drivers like interest rates, inflation, and balance of trade.
6. Balance of Trade
Balance of trade, or terms of trade, is the relative difference between a country’s imports and exports. For example, if a country has a positive balance of trade, it means that its exports exceed its imports. In such a case, the inflow of foreign currency is higher than the outflow. When this happens, a country’s foreign exchange reserves grow, helping it lower interest rates, which stimulates economic growth and bolsters the local currency exchange rate.
7. Current Account Deficit
The current account deficit is closely related to the balance of trade. In this scenario, a country’s balance of trade is compared to those of its trading partners. If a country’s current account deficit is higher than that of a trading partner, this can weaken its currency relative to that country’s currency. As such, countries that have positive or low current account deficits tend to have stronger currencies than those with high deficits.
8. Confidence/ Speculation
Sometimes, currencies are affected by the confidence (or lack thereof) traders have in a currency. Currency changes from speculation tend to be irrational, abrupt, and short-lived. For example, traders may devalue a currency based on an election outcome, especially if the result is perceived as unfavorable for trade or economic growth. In other cases, traders may be bullish on a currency because of economic news, which may buoy the currency, even if the economic news itself did not affect the currency fundamentals.
9. Government Intervention
Governments have a collection of tools at their disposal through which they can manipulate their local exchange rate. Primarily, central banks are known to adjust interest rates, buy foreign currency, influence local lending rates, print money, and use other tools to modulate currency exchange rates. The primary objective of manipulating these factors is to ensure favorable conditions for a stable currency exchange rate, cheaper credit, more jobs, and high economic growth.