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Inflation is just one of many threats to the value of the U.S. dollar

by Alliance America
August 22, 2023


The U.S. dollar, often symbolized by the strong and steadfast eagle, has long been considered the backbone of the global financial system. The dollar is the world's primary reserve currency, facilitating global trade and acting as the preferred medium for international transactions. But how did it achieve this dominant position, and what challenges has it faced over the last century?

Why is the dollar the world's reserve currency?

The dollar's ascendancy to its current global role began with the Bretton Woods Agreement in 1944, when representatives from 44 Allied nations convened in New Hampshire to design a new international monetary order. The primary goals of the conference were to stabilize exchange rates to prevent competitive devaluations and promote international trade and to facilitate reconstruction of Europe following World War II.

The agreement established fixed exchange rates where major currencies were pegged to the dollar. In turn, the U.S. dollar was pegged to gold at $35 an ounce. This effectively positioned the dollar at the center of the global monetary system, since countries would now hold dollars as the principal reserve currency to facilitate international trade and finance.

In the 1970s, a new phase of dollar dominance began. Major oil-producing countries in the Middle East started to price and trade oil in dollars — a practice that continues to this day. This created a massive demand for dollars globally, as countries needed the currency to engage in the oil trade.

The U.S. has historically had a strong rule of law, a stable political system and resilient financial institutions. This trustworthiness, coupled with the U.S. government's commitment to honoring its debt obligations, bolstered international confidence in holding dollar-denominated assets.

By 1971, the Bretton Woods system began to strain under economic pressure. President Richard Nixon announced the suspension of the dollar's convertibility into gold, marking the end of the gold standard in America. This event transformed the dollar into a fiat currency without the backing of a physical commodity. Despite this shift, the U.S. dollar's role as the world's leading reserve currency persisted, underpinned by factors like trust, petrodollars and economic dominance.

What are the threats to the dollar’s valuation?

The U.S. dollar, often symbolized as the world's primary reserve currency, has witnessed its valuation affected by a myriad of factors over the decades. While its stature remains mostly intact, there have been, and continue to be, significant threats to its valuation.

One perpetual threat is the ever-increasing national debt. Historically, nations with substantial debts have seen their currencies devalue, as investors fear potential default or inflationary policies to manage the debt. While U.S. treasuries are still considered one of the safest assets globally, the expanding debt could erode confidence in the dollar.

The decision in 1971 to end the gold standard meant the dollar's value was not anchored to any physical commodity. While the dollar has remained robust, this decoupling makes it more susceptible to economic policies and global events.

Global economic shifts and the rise of major economies, particularly China, pose a separate challenge to the U.S. dollar. As other economies grow and expand their global influence, the demand for their currencies can increase, which can dilute the dominance and value of the U.S. dollar.

As mentioned, one of the pillars of dollar demand is the petrodollar system, where oil trade is primarily conducted in greenbacks. However, moves by other large countries to conduct transactions outside the dollar framework can undermine this system, impacting dollar demand.

What are the BRICS countries doing?

wooden toy blocks spelling out BRICS

The BRICS nations, comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, represent some of the world's most significant emerging economies. These countries have grown rapidly over the past two decades, increasing their share of global GDP, trade and investment. As they've grown, they've begun to challenge the existing world order in many areas, including the dominance of the U.S. dollar as the global reserve currency. The BRICS nations have actively pursued trade agreements that bypass the U.S. dollar. For example, China and Russia have established bilateral trade deals where transactions are done using the yuan and the ruble, thereby avoiding the U.S. dollar entirely. Such arrangements reduce the dominance and necessity of the dollar in global trade.

As the world's second-largest economy, China has the most substantial foreign reserves. While a large portion is in U.S. treasuries, there's a strategic push toward diversifying these holdings to reduce dependency on the dollar. If other BRICS nations follow suit, this could potentially impact the dollar's demand and valuation.

How does the Fed’s policy impact the dollar’s value?

The Federal Reserve, commonly referred to as the Fed, wields significant power over the U.S. economy through its monetary policy tools, chiefly its control over interest rates and the utilization of quantitative easing (QE). The decisions made around these instruments not only influence the domestic economic landscape but also have profound implications for the value and status of the U.S. dollar on the global stage.

When the Fed raises interest rates, U.S. assets, including government bonds, become more attractive to foreign investors seeking better returns. This can lead to increased demand for the U.S. dollar, driving up its value.

Conversely, higher interest rates can also increase borrowing costs for businesses and consumers, potentially slowing domestic economic growth. If growth is perceived to be lagging, especially compared to other major economies, the dollar might weaken in the longer term.

A stronger dollar, resulting from higher interest rates, can make U.S. exports more expensive for foreign buyers and imports cheaper for U.S. consumers. This can potentially exacerbate trade deficits, which might put downward pressure on the dollar in the long run.

Quantitative easing involves the Fed buying longer-term securities, such as government bonds, to inject more money into the economy. While this can stimulate economic activity by reducing longer-term interest rates and increasing access to capital, it also increases the supply of dollars in circulation.

Quantitative easing involves the Fed buying longer-term securities, such as government bonds, to inject more money into the economy. While this can stimulate economic activity by reducing longer-term interest rates and increasing access to capital, it also increases the supply of dollars in circulation.

An influx of money into the economy through QE can also lead to concerns about inflation. If prices rise (inflation) but the value of the dollar falls, the purchasing power of the dollar decreases domestically and internationally.

A devalued dollar might make U.S. exports cheaper and more attractive to foreign buyers. On the flip side, U.S. imports become more expensive, potentially influencing trade dynamics.

How do geopolitical events impact the dollar?

two toy tanks on a map pointing at one another

Geopolitical tensions, which encompass a range of issues from trade disputes to armed conflicts, can have significant implications for the global financial landscape. The U.S. dollar, given its role as a dominant global reserve currency, is particularly sensitive to such upheavals.

In times of geopolitical uncertainty, investors tend to flock to perceived "safe-haven" assets. Historically, the U.S. dollar, alongside assets like gold and U.S. Treasury bonds, has been viewed as a stable and reliable store of value. As tensions escalate, the demand for the dollar often rises, strengthening its value.

Geopolitical tensions can disrupt trade flows. For instance, sanctions against a country or a group of countries can reduce trade volume, leading to shifts in currency demand. If countries reduce their trade with the U.S. due to such tensions, the demand for the dollar might diminish, potentially weakening its value.

Political unrest or conflict can redirect global capital flows. If regions are perceived as unstable, investors might pull capital out and seek refuge in more stable economies, like the U.S. This influx of capital can boost the demand for the dollar.

Many globally traded commodities, like oil, are priced in U.S. dollars. Geopolitical events that affect commodity-producing regions can lead to price fluctuations. For instance, tensions in the Middle East could disrupt oil supplies, leading to increased oil prices. A surge in oil prices can lead to a higher demand for the U.S. dollar, impacting its value.

Geopolitical events can influence the policies of central banks worldwide. If tensions lead to economic slowdowns, central banks might adjust their policies, which can influence currency values.

The financial markets are not just driven by tangible events but also by perceptions and sentiments. Fear and uncertainty about geopolitical events can lead to volatility in the currency markets. Speculators reacting to headlines can exacerbate movements in the dollar's value, even if the underlying fundamentals remain unchanged.

How does inflation impact the value of the dollar?

Inflation is a measure of the rate at which the general level of prices for goods and services rises, and, subsequently, purchasing power falls. Central banks attempt to limit inflation and avoid deflation in order to keep the economy running smoothly.

At its core, inflation erodes the purchasing power of money. This means that as inflation rises, each dollar can buy fewer goods and services. Over time, if a country experiences sustained inflation, its currency will lose value in real terms. This is most evident when consumers find that their money doesn’t go as far as it once did, even if their nominal income remains the same.

If inflation is rising and surpasses the Fed's target, it might increase interest rates to curb spending and borrowing. Higher interest rates can attract foreign investors looking for the best return on their investments, which can lead to an appreciation of the country’s currency. Conversely, if the Fed lowers rates to combat low inflation or deflation, the dollar might depreciate compared to other currencies.

As inflation makes U.S. goods more expensive for foreign buyers, exports can decrease. Similarly, foreign goods might become cheaper for American consumers, leading to increased imports. A widening trade deficit (more imports than exports) can result in higher demand for foreign currency and reduced demand for the dollar, thus depreciating its value.


The U.S. dollar's position as the world's dominant reserve currency provides it with a unique resilience against many threats. However, in a globalized and interconnected world, the challenges are multifaceted. U.S. dollar's journey over the past century underscores the intricate dance of geopolitics, economics and finance. While its status as the world's primary reserve currency remains intact, it's vital for policymakers and stakeholders to remain vigilant to ensure its continued stability and dominance in the evolving global landscape.

Alliance America can help

Alliance America is an insurance and financial services company dedicated to the art of personal financial planning. Our financial professionals can assist you in maximizing your retirement resources and achieving your future goals. We have access to an array of products and services, all focused on helping you enjoy the retirement lifestyle you want and deserve. You can request a no-cost, no-obligation consultation by calling (833) 219-6884 today.

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