Taking Stock / Arie the Genius

Say, where is the dollar going?

The market hasn't been this volatile since June 2002, when the dollar wildly surged in the space of weeks to almost five shekels.

Everybody involved in money, or who happens to pay rent, has to be wondering: Where is the dollar going? Is it there yet?

Do we wish to risk predicting where the dollar will go in a week, month or over years?

The last time we almost handed down a categorical prediction for the dollar was at the end of January, after the World Economic Forum conference in Davos. On the last day of the conference, we met with and heard five of the richest and cleverest investors in the world: Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and George Soros, who require no introduction; Larry Summers, a prominent economist who also served as secretary of the U.S. Treasury and is president of Harvard, and is the grandson of the influential economist Paul Samuelson; and Kenneth Rogov, a renowned economics professor.

It was clear to them: The U.S. dollar was going to collapse and the American trade deficit was a ticking time bomb. One, Buffett, had put his pennies where his mouth was and bet $20 billion on the euro against the dollar.

For a moment there, the dire cold of January in Davos merged with the dire predictions of the world's greatest minds in economics, and vanquished our common sense. We whipped out the trusty laptop and industriously started to tap out a column explaining why investors should flee the greenback.

Suddenly we were brought short - wait, this is the foreign exchange market we're writing about - and we came to our senses. Instead we began the March 31, 2005 column with a chestnut: If everybody expects the market to move in a given direction, it may be time to move the other way.

We then went on to discuss the anti-dollar positions of the five great men.

And thus we were saved by the skin of our teeth yet again. A few days after the conference ended, the trend reversed and the dollar shot up 8 percent against the euro.

Breast-beating at the banks

As we write, the economic analysis departments at the world's great banks are busy updating their foreign exchange forecasts and beating their breasts, explaining why they got it wrong.

This is a good moment to admit: We have absolutely no clue where the dollar is going. We don't know where it will be in the coming days, we have zero idea where it will be in a month, two months or twelve. Looking a few years down the line, we are prepared to consider giving some sort of forecast, but reluctantly and only with a gun to our heads.

So why is the press in Israel and the world brimming with quotes from analysts, investors and bankers confidently presenting their short-term projections for the dollar, the euro and the yen? What are we supposed to learn from them?

Mainly, that the forecasters make their daily bread by issuing forecasts and collecting fees. The dollar rises, the dollar falls, the dollar turns into green cheese - it's all one to them, they take their fee.

In general, forecasts about the dollar remind us of that flourishing small business belonging to the genius scientist Arie.

Arie had an astonishing faculty for prophesying weather. Anybody wanting to hold, say, a wedding or brit milah outdoors would seek his special meteorological services.

For $1,000 cash, Arie would predict an appropriate date for the event, with astonishing accuracy, explaining which days would be sunny and delightful, which stormy and which too cold.

Naturally, he would get it wrong from time to time; instead of a warm sunshiny day, hail might pound down on the startled guests and ruin the punch and smoked salmon, sending the DJ and guests scurrying for shelter.

But Arie was fair. In a case like that he'd return the $1,000 to the soggy groom. On average, actually, he got to keep his wage only 50 percent of the time, but that's a living too, he'd explain.

Clarification: Knesset member Ronnie Brizon stopped working with Bank Hapoalim 17 years ago. We regret if anything else might have been inferred from this column two weeks ago.