Buffett's Billion-Dollar Boo-Boo

In his annual letter to the shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett acknowledged that his bet against U.S. currency had collectively cost them almost $1 billion. Buffet wrote, "My views on America’s long-term problem in respect to trade imbalances, which I have laid out in previous reports, remain unchanged. My conviction, however, cost Berkshire $955 million pre-tax in 2005. …"

In recent years, Buffett has increasingly used his platform as an extraordinarily skillful mutual fund manger to criticize the economic performance of the country under President Bush. In last year’s letter he announced that he had been significantly increasing his position against the dollar, citing a growing trade deficit as the reason. Buffett’s statement that America was moving from being an ownership society to a "sharecropper’s society" and other criticisms received quite a bit of media attention.

As the chart shows, rising trade deficits cannot be presumed to cause a falling dollar. The data show the dollar strengthening against the euro at a time when trade deficits are rising. This also happened during the Reagan Administration. It is consistent with supply side economics, which sees the value of the dollar determined by the tightness or looseness of our central bank. A free flow of goods, services and capital across borders does not seem to have had any negative impact on the value of the dollar.