Thu, Nov 22, 2007 - Page 13 News List

'Say Euro, Euro bill, y'all'

The decline of the US dollar is being picked up by pop culture icons


Rumors are flying that Gisele Bundchen opted to be paid in euros rather than US dollars.


When people start talking about rappers and supermodels shunning the US dollar, you know there's a problem.

As the greenback recently hit historic lows against other major currencies, rap mogul Jay-Z released a new video in which he flashes euros, not US dollars. It was also widely reported recently that one of the world's richest supermodels, Gisele Bundchen, opted to be paid in euros because of the dollar's weak outlook. Her spokeswoman has denied that the model was spurning the dollar, saying Bundchen is paid in the currency of a job's location.

Nevertheless, the euro bought an all-time record US$1.4752 earlier this month and the British pound has also been trading at its highest levels against the dollar since the early 1980s. The Canadian dollar, often called the "Loonie," reached parity with the dollar in September for the first time since 1976, and has climbed steadily since.

While investors, multinational businesses and travelers have been witnessing the dollar's slide for years, pop culture is new territory.

Jay-Z's Blue Magic video seems to have been an attempt to acknowledge the dollar's decline in an ironic way and to paint the artist as an international superstar who is smarter than those accepting greenbacks.

"It is probably a particularly good strategy as the 'image of the dollar' loses its 'currency' as an emblem of extravagance and success,'' Steven Tepper, associate director of Vanderbilt University's Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy, said in an e-mail. "So, you have the combination of a weakening visual icon - the dollar - and a growing international audience that will understand and connect to the image of the euro.''

As for Bundchen, she would not have been the first to favor contracts in other currencies - others include billionaire investor Warren Buffett and PIMCO Managing Director Bill Gross.

"Any international business person that is moving assets around the world will want to do as many deals in the strongest currency available, which is certainly not the dollar these days,'' Tepper added.

The dollar's decline represents expectations the US economy will slow relative to other economies. Recent cuts to the Federal Reserve's key interest rate have also weakened the dollar, as investors transferred funds to countries where they can earn higher returns.

A weaker dollar also makes US goods cheaper and more competitive in foreign markets, tightening the trade deficit. It helps some US companies with operations abroad whose profit is greater when converted into dollars. But at the same time, a cheaper dollar makes foreign goods and travel more expensive.

Although pop culture preferences are not the most important factors in the equation, some say they can have enough of an impact to support the dollar's decline.

"Obviously a supermodel changing preferences is not going to rock the markets overnight,'' said Axel Merk, manager of the Merk Hard Currency Fund. "This is just a symptom. But sure, yes, it does have an impact and that's going to happen more and more."

Recent hype about Jay-Z and Bundchen, US travelers' tighter budgets and hordes of foreigners flocking to the US for holiday shopping may have pushed Americans to the "point of recognition,'' at which they realize the dollar has lost its dominance. If so, the most significant effect will be felt by those who weren't aware of its rapid decline, said Kathleen Vohs, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota who has researched the psychology of money.

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