Ways to Play the Weak Dollar

October 12, 2007

With the dollar down against a variety of currencies as of late, there are a lot of interesting opportunities to take advantage of if you know which way things are headed.

First, if you’re expecting a continuing weaker dollar, who benefits from this? Obviously, tourists from Europe and Canada where the dollar is near all-time lows against the Euro and the Loonie. But beyond this simplistic viewpoint of currency, what about the businesses that have their cost in dollars but their revenue in other currencies? One of the little known idiosyncrasies of the commodity markets is that the rising oil prices are traded only in dollars on the NYMEX and CBOT. So while the U.S. futures market has seen near-record level prices for light sweet crude, most of Europe has been protected from these rising costs by the weakening dollar and will continue to see the benefits if the dollar remains weak and/or the price of oil drops. An example of this would be a Canadian airline that converts its cash into dollars to buy gas for its planes. While its revenue remains the same, oil purchased a few months back at $70 USD/barrel while the Loonie was at 0.9 Dollars would be near $77.8 Canadian, but even at $80 USD/barrel now with the Loonie at just above parity with the Dollar is around $79.2 Canadian. Compared to US airlines that now have a 15% increase in one of their costs, the Canadian airline has had a less than 2% increase in the same per unit cost item.

At a macroeconomic level, the weak dollar is still good for many US companies. Tourism related companies will receive an influx of customers from those in other countries that now find their currency strong against the dollar. Exports will also be on the rise for the same reason and will also narrow the trade gap. These two elements should keep job growth strong and help many of the companies that export goods around the world. But, for companies that sell their goods in dollars and have cost in their national currency (other than the Dollar), the weakening dollar will erode earnings. Companies like EADS and foreign petroleum companies tend to have costs in their own currencies since they pay local workers and make capital expenditures in foreign countries. But most of their products are sold in Dollars or exported to the US, where the weakening dollar makes their products worth less relative to their costs.

What’s an investor to do? Invest in multinational corporations based in the US. Companies that operate in my countries are hedged against moves in the dollar and benefit from stronger foreign currencies when they have to convert it back to Dollars to report their earnings. Companies like YUM Brands (YUM) with strong foreign growth and significant foreign earnings receive an extra kick coming earnings season. In its 3Q report YUM stated a “Favorable foreign currency conversion impact of about $0.02 EPS“, which equates to around $10-million Dollars in additional earnings despite missing growth targets abroad and declining sales at home.

But what if the Dollar rebounds against these currencies? The clear choice would be in domestic companies that do a lot of importing of goods. Oil companies would benefit largely due to decreased costs and many of the already hot tech stocks will be getting a boost from cheaper hardware made abroad. While these sectors are not necessarily hurt due to the weakening Dollar, any surprising rebound in the Dollar will have a highly beneficial impact on their bottom lines. I’m not going to explore this scenario much further since the Fed rate cuts do little to bring any strength back to the Dollar while other countries, like New Zealand, continue to raise their rates.

An interesting path to take regarding currency plays is to invest in areas where currencies are pegged to the Dollar. China, for instance, is pegged to the Dollar and as such investments in there neither benefit nor are harmed by currency fluctuations. So there is little to worry about if you foresee continued growth in China. While growth there continues in double-digit GDP gains, there are also a lot of other underrated markets that are also pegged to the Dollar. While the bull market in Asian growth is far from over, there is also a lot of Latin American growth that is going unnoticed. Countries like Argentina, Panama, and Ecuador are pegged to the Dollar and have also seen their GDP growth increasing lately. Be wary, though, since a lot of their growth follows oil exports, mining, and global shipping. Latin America could be an interesting play either way due to lower exposure as a less “sexy” investment area.

Whatever your views on the future of the Dollar, just remember that somewhere there is a market that’s growing.

I own shares of YUM and NMX.


Stock Picking Basics (1)

October 1, 2007

With the advent of “systems” for investing and a new wealth of information about companies, it can be hard to figure out which stocks you want to invest in. While many commentators will tell you about a lot of different companies from a variety of industries, sometimes it helps to just simplify. One of the most basic stock picking adages is to buy what you know. There is also the corollary to buy what you buy. Now how do you put these sayings into practice.

If you are just starting out in the world of investing and have your strategy and comfort with risk evaluated, the next step is to start looking into companies you wish to invest in. Before looking for exotic companies with high returns, you really don’t even have to go to far to find successful companies that have had great returns already. For the poor college student/new college graduate that’s too lazy to cook, there are plenty of fast food restaurants that have been returning greater than 10% over the past few years. Companies like McDonalds (MCD), Wendy’s (WEN), Jack in the Box (JBX), and YUM Brands (YUM) which owns KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut are all strong companies with a lot of growth potential in the near term. When you go to these places for lunch or dinner then you’ll just be putting your money back into your investments. Plus, if you goes to these restaurants and watch how brisk business is at times, then you already have a bellweather into the health of the company’s performance. If you find you’re the only one in there, then perhaps it’s time to pull out of fast food restaurants.

Not one to partake in fast food, how about consumer electronics? Still seeing lots of iPods or hearing about all the new TV’s people are buying? Companies like Apple (AAPL), Research in Motion (RIMM) the maker of the Blackberry, Sony (SNE), or Philips Electronics (PHG) are all good places to start if you also plan on upgrading a few of your electronic toys in the near future.

So what are you spending your money on every week? Why not invest in the companies that are going to be getting your money anyways. The gas companies are not a bad idea if you have a favorite gas station to fill up your car. Ask yourself some of these questions when brainstorming about which companies to invest your money. Where are you getting your food from or what kind of drinks are your favorite? What about the clothes you buy or even the bathroom products you use? This is why the adage of investing in what you know and what you buy is such an easily understood idea that can be oft overlooked. Plus, you get the advantage of seeing how the company is actually performing without having to wait for its financial reports every quarter.

As of this writing, I currently own shares of YUM Brands (YUM).