GEO Investing

By Jenna Batten, Guest Contributor

Back in March, Fortune wrote a fascinating column called The Strong Dollar: Your Enemy Or Friend? The article took a look at the strength of the U.S. dollar, not as an eventuality or developing trend, but as a cause waiting for an effect. And in the process, it posed an interesting analysis of how economic growth in the U.S.–one can argue that it caused the rise of the dollar in the first place–is now being divided as a result of economic trends, both domestically and abroad.

Strong Dollar on a Consistent Path

Since that article was written, the dollar has continued on a relatively strong path, indicating it will remain competitive with the euro and in a position to keep the U.S. economy looking outwardly strong. For the month of May, the currencies were trading in a small range with $1.12/euro serving as a rough average, according to these charts. It was a month without significant progress in the dollar’s rise (or the euro’s fall) but it indicates that a close relationship between the two is inching toward the new normal, as opposed to years past in which the euro has essentially dominated.

And now that this new economic climate is setting in, its effect on U.S. exporters is becoming clearer. Interestingly enough, that effect is far from universal, but rather one that seems to be dividing companies into two camps: those with multinational production capabilities and broad reach; and those smaller and less influential by nature.

Bloomberg Business addressed this topic and revealed that smaller exporters, which account for a huge portion of overall U.S. exports (with companies with fewer than 500 employees responsible for one third of sales overseas), are already feeling the heat. “For small firms the squeeze is inescapable, and it’s only just beginning,” the article asserts. It makes the point that not only are exports more difficult when foreign countries no longer have favorable relationships with the dollar, but also that cheaper imports to the U.S. means more competition for domestic sales.

On the other hand, the aforementioned Fortune article argued that some larger U.S.-based companies that have manufacturing facilities abroad are handling the currency shifts more easily. The specific example provided was Caterpillar Inc. Common Stock (NYSE:CAT), which has experienced some woes in the form of slowing and less valuable sales in foreign markets. The article also pointed out that these woes have been offset by the fact that purchasing materials and maintaining production facilities abroad has become significantly more affordable. The result, apparently, was that “the rising dollar actually boosted Caterpillar’s bottom line in 2014.”

This doesn’t necessarily mean that every multinational U.S.-based company is avoiding struggles as a result of the rising dollar. The simple fact is that for the most part exporters are having trouble. Also, those companies with bases overseas are selling to deflated currencies that don’t hold up to dollar sales. However, the Caterpillar example demonstrates pretty clearly that if the U.S. dollar continues to rise, a wider divide could begin to appear between U.S.-based companies.

Jenna Batten is a freelance writer based outside of Baltimore. She typically covers topics in finance, business, and politics, and has contributed to numerous publications online. When Jenna isn’t writing, her hobbies include sailing and web design.