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Will the US Dollar Survive?


Politicians do battle over dominant world currency.

Battle lines are being drawn. Sides chosen. Allegiances cemented.

But this war won't be waged with bullets; instead, it will be fought with words and ideas. The dollar wars are heating up.

Just a few weeks ago, the governor of the People's Bank of China, Zhou Xiaochuan, made unambiguous comments about his country's desire for a single, international currency. Gone, he said, were the days when the money of choice for global trade was that of a single sovereign nation. Russia, along with a host of other nations only moderately friendly to the US, expressed similar sentiments.

Today, firing back against the single-global-currency crew, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar reaffirmed their support of the dollar. Bloomberg reports the 3 Gulf nations have no plans to abandon their US dollar pegs, applauding its resilience in the face of crisis.

Last summer, as the dollar tanked and inflation soared, experts feared these and other countries would push the dollar from its place atop the currency hierarchy. But amid signs that the US economy may no longer be in freefall -- and the rapid repayment of dollar-denominated debt -- the greenback has rallied more than 10% off its July 2008 lows.

Geopolitical grandstanding aside, the fate of the dollar and American corporate profits are inextricably linked. Corporate profits and jobs are also closely linked.

Big multinationals like Wal-Mart (WMT) and IBM (IBM) earned windfall profits by converting international revenue into dollars at favorable rates. As the greenback lost value over the last decade, those euros, pesos and reals earned abroad translated into bigger and bigger numbers when tallied here at home.

The dollar's recent strength has turned a windfall into a headwind. In the past month, MasterCard (MA) and McDonald's (MCD) blamed weak profit figures, in part, on the strengthening US currency.

And that's the high-wire act currently being performed by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and other US monetary and fiscal bureaucrats: A weak dollar buoys corporate profits, even as it keeps prices rising at home. Strengthen the dollar to combat inflation, and exports -- along with profits -- slump.

We've reached the critical juncture. After 18 months of running the printing presses around the clock to keep our economy out of the morgue, the relative wisdom of the Fed's ways will become increasingly clear.

At stake isn't just bragging rights on the global economic stage, but the integrity of the little green bills that keep the global economy running - the same ones each of us still uses to buy bread.
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