Uh-oh. Will Goldman kill the dollar too?

May 19, 2011: 2:17 PM ET
dolar, euro, currencies

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Editor's note: The following column is NOT about LinkedIn. Sorry. But we do need some counter programming today.

If you aren't that cynical, call it a simple case of coincidence. Investment bank Goldman Sachs predicted in mid-April that oil and other commodities could soon plunge.

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And then they quickly did.

Self-fulfilling prophecy because Goldman is one of the largest and most influential investment banks and trading powerhouses on the planet? Perhaps.

Love them or hate them, you have to listen up when Goldman analysts say something. And that brings us to the firm's latest bold proclamation. Goldman currency analysts predict that the suddenly resurgent dollar will once again decline against the euro.

Uh-oh?

In a report that came out late Wednesday, Goldman's currency team said that the euro, which had fallen below $1.41 as recently as late last week, could climb back to $1.45 in the next three months.

Lo and behold, the euro popped against the greenback Thursday, climbing above $1.43. "There has been an aggressive sell-off in the dollar," said Kathy Lien, director of currency research for GFT in Jersey City.

Prepare for a Fed hike -- in 2018

Lien said part of the euro rally could be contributed to the Goldman report but that weak manufacturing and housing data Thursday morning also were a major factor behind the dollar's slide.

That makes sense. The dollar had rallied against the euro recently mainly because Europe's well-known sovereign debt problems resurfaced in the financial headlines. It's not like the U.S. economy miraculously healed itself.

With that in mind, the Goldman analysts said they actually think the euro could climb as high as $1.50 in the next six months and to $1.55 within a year. If it hits the $1.55 level, that would put the euro only about 4% below its all-time high against the dollar from the summer of 2008.

Analysts cited high unemployment, the still-weak housing market and "fiscal consolidation looming" -- which is code for likely big budget cuts in Washington.

Lien isn't as bearish on the dollar, but she said a peak of $1.50 is reasonable if the U.S. economic recovery does not pick up steam.

Still, here's the interesting thing about Goldman's dollar call. If the currency analysts are right, that might mean Goldman's prediction on oil will either soon have to change or risk being woefully wrong.

"If the dollar weakens, commodities are probably going to rise. The dollar has been strong and that's one of the reasons why commodities have pulled back," said Randy Frederick, director of trading and derivatives at Charles Schwab in Austin.

It's also worth noting that another big reason behind the April and early May swoon in the euro, plunge in commodities and rally in the dollar is that Europe hasn't raised interest rates as aggressively as once thought.

Keep track of the dollar, euro and other currencies

The ECB did boost rates in April but held them steady at this month's meeting. ECB head Jean-Claude Trichet also hinted that there would be no rate hike at its June meeting either. Still, there is growing speculation that a rate increase in July is nearly a given and that won't be the last increase either.

A general rule of thumb with currencies is that the lower interest rates are, the weaker the currency is. That's why the yen, in addition to the dollar, has been a relative laggard in recent years while emerging market currencies such as China's yuan and Brazil's real have been strong.

So it may be a stretch, despite what Goldman says, for the euro to rebound against the dollar so swiftly unless the European Central Bank starts to raise interest rates more regularly.

And Goldman can't have it both ways. If the ECB goes a-hiking again and the Fed stays pat, it's hard to imagine a scenario where both the dollar depreciates rapidly and commodities continue to slump as much as they have.

Make no mistake, the Fed is unlikely to touch interest rates for a long time -- even if inflation hawks start squawking more loudly. So if you had to bet on Goldman's two seemingly polar opposite investment calls, the weaker dollar seems the wiser choice.

Yes, it looks like a speculative bubble in oil, gold, silver and other commodities may have popped this month. I'm not suggesting the dollar is going to plummet and that oil will head back to $115 a barrel.

"The dollar and euro are like two horses in the glue factory. There is no reason for the euro to be this strong either," said Richard Soultanian, co-president of NUS Consulting Group, an energy consulting firm in Park Ridge, N.J. "What's happened is that some of the froth has come out of the commodity market."

But the ball is in Fed chair Ben Bernanke's court. Fund managers may go back to shorting the dollar and going long everything else if the Fed continues to sit out the global monetary tightening parade.

"Until the Fed raises rates, the dollar will remain weak compared to the euro and emerging market currencies," Frederick said.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Paul R. La Monica. Other than Time Warner, the parent of CNNMoney, and Abbott Laboratories, La Monica does not own positions in any individual stocks. To top of page

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