JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) – Moves by Middle East oil exporters and Russia to switch some revenue from dollars to euros lie behind the U.S. currency’s weakness, and a further rise in crude prices could prompt more declines, the billionaire investor George Soros said on Monday.
Soros told delegates to the Jeddah Economic Forum that the dollar’s fall should help to lower the U.S current account and trade deficits, but warned that a fall beyond an undisclosed “tipping point” would severely disrupt markets.
The U.S. current account deficit is more than five percent of gross domestic product despite the currency’s three-year slide. The dollar, however, has staged a comeback recently, gaining about 3.6 percent against the euro and three percent versus the yen so far this year.
“The oil exporting countries’ central banks … have been switching out of dollars mainly into euros and Russia also plays an important role in this. That is, I think, at the bottom of the current weakness of the dollar,” Soros said.
Soros, dubbed “The Man who broke the Bank of England” for his role as a hedge fund manager in betting the pound would drop in 1992, said he was not predicting further falls in the value of the dollar. But he linked its fate to the price of oil.
“The higher the price of oil the more the dollars there are to be switched to euro (so) the strength of oil will reinforce the weakness of the dollar,” he said. “That is only one factor, but I think there is such a relationship.”
U.S. crude hit a record $55.67 a barrel late last year and prices remain close to $50 a barrel.
In later comments to Reuters, Soros said the U.S. current account deficit could be financed at the current level of the dollar. “There are willing holders of the dollar. There are the Asian countries that are happy to accumulate dollar balances in order to have an export surplus and a market for their dollars,” he said.
Soros would not make detailed comments on why long-term borrowing costs have fallen in the face of short-term rate increases, a development U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said on Wednesday he found difficult to explain.
“A flattening of the yield curve is usually an indication of a slowing economy, but here I don’t know,” Soros said.
The Hungarian-born financier, a critic of U.S. involvement in Iraq, said he was considering backing an Arab foundation to promote the ideals of civil and open societies in the region.