Europe nervously watches dollar climb -- and oil prices with it
After witnessing with growing alarm the spectacular rise of the "Reagan dollar" in the past several weeks, European planners are reacting to the economic policy package announced by President Reagan Feb. 18 with some trepidation about its immediate international ramifications.
Already astounded by the sudden turnaround in the dollar's fortune after years of deterioration, these European economic leaders are also looking on the sharp policy shifts announced by the new US administration with some skepticism and as another mixed blessing of them.
While they are hoping a buoyant American economy can also boost their own sagging performance, some Europeans have doubts about the Reagan efforts. Comparing the Reagan approach to that of a controversial program of Britain's Thatcher government, the opposition Daily Guardian commented Thursday, "There is everything right with the objectives but everything wrong with the policies."
Also reacting immediately in a radio interview, French Finance Minister Rene Monory observed the Reagan package went "in the right sense," but added its goals "have little chance of being realized with the current high interest rates."
As a foretaste of what may be a marked shift in the American economy and mood , these officials have been caught somewhat flat-footed by the dollar's virtually uninterrupted rise of some 10 percent against most of the European currencies in the past four weeks. This escalation has seriously disturbed the system of currency exchange rates cautiously tested in Europe in recent years and is being regarded as the harbinger of another oil price shock in the immediate future.
The post-election rebound of the dollar has had a particularly negative impact on the once-mighty West German mark, which only recently played the role of savior for the depressed dollar and other currencies. The mark itself has had to be rescued from a precipitous fall in recent weeks at a cost of billions of dollars to European governments.
Since January 1980 the deutschemark has lost some 24 percent of its value against the dollar. A roughly similar fate has befallen the French and Belgian francs, which are linked to the West German currency in the Common Market's European Monetary System created two years ago as a common shelter against the vagaries of a then-crestfallen dollar.
Currency stability has been the quest of most European Community countries, whose economies are especially dependent on trade since the dollar was cut loose from it crucial but burdensome role as the cornerstone of the world monetary system in 1971.
Any monetary upheavals such as the one of this year disrupt their all-important trade relationships with each other and the rest of the world.
The most obvious examples of this disruption are the immediate effects on the prices of Europe's imported oil and on its short-term balance of payments. As a result of the recent dollar increases, Europeans have to pay more in their currencies for oil imports priced in dollars. This week motorists throughout Europe found prices at their gas stations on the rise to keep up with the dollar.
European countries, like other oil importers throughout the world, will have to cope with billions of dollars in bills for their already strained industries and treasuries as a result of the dollar's rise right on the heels of the OPEC oil price increase of a few months ago.
In the immediate future, these same countries, which also order considerable imports from the United States, will find these purchases costing more. These dollar-related consequences also will provide further fuel to their troubles ome inflation levels.