Dollar Relativity

It’s been a tough year for stock market investors. The MSCI World Index has returned -25.6% in 2022 (measured in USD), on track for its worst year since 2008 and its 2nd worst year since the index started in 1970. ‘Measured in USD’ is an important consideration though – more so than usual – as the Dollar Index has risen 17% YTD. This is one of the biggest and fastest changes in the Dollar Index over the last 30 years. (The Dollar index measures the USD’s performance relative to a basket of major currencies.) The Rand has lost 12% against the Dollar in 2022, less than the 17% change in the Dollar Index. In other words, the Rand has strengthened against most other currencies. The Euro has lost 14% in 2022, the Pound 17% and the Yen a massive 20%.

The following table shows the year-to-date performance of the MSCI World Index (the global stock market) measured in these major currencies and in ZAR.

MSCI World Index 2022
YTD Return -25.6% -13.5% -9.6% -6.4% -15.6%
America vs the World

What in USD appears to be serious bear market, appears in most other currencies to be a ‘normal’ correction. How you perceive the current market movement has a lot to do with where you live and spend your money. If you’re in America, spending USD, then 2022 has been a bad year. If you’re in Japan, spending Yen, you’ve barely felt it.

The strengthening USD has been a trend since the financial crisis back in 2008. The following graph shows the performance of the MSCI World Index measured in different currencies, adjusting for the countries’ different inflation rates. This effectively measures how the market has performed relative to the cost of living in these countries.

There is a notable difference between the real USD return since 2008 and the real return measured in various international currencies. The difference between USD and EUR/GBP/JPY is far greater than the difference between ZAR and EUR/GBP/JPY. America has diverged from the rest of the world. What this means, in practical terms, is that the global stock market has done a lot less for Americans over the last 14 years than for people living in other countries, including South Africa. Relative to their cost of living, Americans have gained only 40% since 2008, while the British have gained 114%, the Europeans 138%, the Japanese 151% and South Africans 117%.

As South Africans we often think of the investment world in terms of domestic and offshore. This is a big mistake, in part because South Africa represents less than 1% of the world economy, but also because ‘offshore’ isn’t one big homogeneous basket as we so often imagine it to be. For starters there is a major distinction between the United States and the rest of the world. There is also a distinction between developed markets and emerging markets. The world is a big and diverse place.

So what can we take from this? 
  1. For international resident investors (including South Africans), the market movement in 2022 has been less severe than for American resident investors.
  2. We South Africans often measure ourselves in absolute terms relative to the USD, which paints a very bleak picture. While we do have severe domestic problems, if our currency were ranked on an international leaderboard (to borrow golfing terms), we’d be making the cut, not just in 2022 but even since 2008. There are bigger global forces at play than our local issues
  3. Key point: The global investment space is much bigger than America and the USD. ‘Offshore’ is not homogeneous. When you invest globally you are buying an internationally diversified portfolio with various underlying currencies, many of which are cheaper than the Rand. Don’t let one number – the USDZAR exchange rate – dominate your decision-making process when it comes to deciding whether to take money offshore. Consider the bigger picture.

Finally, we are constantly on the lookout for opportunities to invest in good businesses at attractive prices, wherever they may be. We’ve maintained significant USD cash balances throughout 2022. We’re well-positioned to take advantage of further market weakness. Far from being a disaster, the current market conditions are finally beginning to offer us a very welcome opportunity to deploy excess cash balances.