In cattle business, exchange rates still matter

The strong U.S. dollar affects beef exports, but not as much as you think.


Scott Brown, BEEF Magazine

Jun 04, 2019


Brown is a livestock economist with the University of Missouri.


With all the headlines discussing tariffs, nontariff trade barriers and animal disease issues, it is easy to overlook the effect that exchange rates have on U.S. meat export levels. Yet a stronger U.S. dollar in recent months has played an important role in the slowdown in beef exports through the first quarter of 2019.


In early February 2018, the dollar reached its weakest level since 2014. Since then, the index of the U.S. dollar against major currencies has strengthened nearly 9%. While this increased purchasing power for U.S. consumers, it made U.S. products including beef more expensive in many key export markets.


Relative to the first quarter of 2018, the dollar strengthened by 8% against the Euro and 5% against the currencies of South Korea, Canada and Taiwan for the first three months of this year. Although the increase was less pronounced in Japan and Mexico, a slightly stronger dollar against these currencies also provided trade headwinds.


Dollar value impact


The graph shows how strongly correlated moves in the U.S. dollar have been recently relative to changes in U.S. beef export value. Note that the exchange rate featured in the chart is the inverse of how it is typically displayed, in order to better see the relationship of a stronger U.S. dollar to weaker export values.


After posting value growth relative to the previous year for 10 consecutive quarters from mid-2016 through the end of 2018, beef export value declined by 2% in the first quarter of 2019. However, the U.S. dollar was nearly 6% stronger than the previous year against an index of major currencies, implying that foreign consumers still spent more on U.S. beef in foreign currency, just not in terms of U.S. dollars.


While it is certainly possible that the sharp growth in demand for U.S. beef in overseas markets is taking a breather, separating the currency effects from the bottom-line total provides encouragement that the demand drop is not as large as it seems.


Challenging times ...


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