U.S. multinational banks are shrugging off the dollar's recent rise.
Bankers and analysts estimated that the dollar's climb on foreign exchange markets, mainly relative to major European currencies, would have a negligible impact on first-quarter earnings.
"Most banks with big international operations are pretty well hedged," said Raphael Soifer, a banking analyst at Brown Brothers Harriman & Co.
There are other reasons banks are not likely to suffer much from currency fluctuations.
Much of the business U.S. banks do overseas, such as syndicated lending, is dollar-denominated to begin with. And some other currencies in which activity is strong, such as the Hong Kong dollar and Argentine peso, have values that are tied to the U.S. dollar.
Such currencies may fluctuate significantly against the German mark or Japanese yen, while staying stable against the dollar.
Also, the more the dollar goes up, the lower become local operating expenses overseas. Although bank earnings may slide slightly, this could well be offset by the expense reduction.
Since Jan. 1, the U.S. currency has climbed by more than 6% against the yen, to a rate of 124 to the dollar; 9% against the German mark, to 1.68; and 9% against the French franc, to 5.68.
But the dollar has been virtually constant versus the Hong Kong dollar and Argentinian peso.
U.S. officials have grown increasingly concerned that a further strong rise in the dollar could make the United States less competitive in international trade.
In a statement this month, finance ministers of the Group of 7 industrial countries, including U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin, suggested the dollar was no longer undervalued against other currencies and that further increases in its value could be destabilizing. The statement added that the seven countries-Germany, France, the United States, Canada, Italy, Japan, and Britain-plan to monitor further fluctuations jointly.
Analysts noted that Citicorp, with sizable operations all over the world, is the banking company most subject to foreign exchange fluctuations. But even Citicorp, they added, is unlikely to experience any major change in earnings.
Citicorp executives were unavailable for comment. However, analysts said Tom Jones, the chief financial officer, had told them this year that currency fluctuations were unlikely to have more than a 1% to 2% effect, up or down, on worldwide expenses.
"Citi has been living in a world of volatile currencies for a long time and has historically managed the risks without apparent problems," said Lawrence Cohn, a banking analyst at PaineWebber Inc. "In the 27 years I have followed Citibank, I don't think I have ever heard them say that a currency movement has had a significant impact on their earnings."
Indirectly, banks also stand to gain if there is any degree of volatility on foreign exchange markets, which increases trading volume and offers traders opportunities to boost profits-assuming they bet correctly.