As we market and finance nerds like to do, I was scanning currency trading charts a few days ago and noted an upside move in the Mexican peso that should be of interest to all South Dakotans.
Why should we care? Well, mainly because our neighbors to the south continue to represent a major market for South Dakota's agricultural production and a strong currency is the surest sign of a stable economy with decent prospects for growth.
Investment banking giant Goldman Sachs agrees, noting that the peso "is one of year's best performing currencies" and "likely has more room to rise." Why? Because NAFTA is still here despite President Trump's hatred of it.
Considering the nonstop vitriol that President Trump has thrown at NAFTA since before he was elected, Mexico's resilience has been remarkable. It bodes well for South Dakota. Since NAFTA's inception in 1993, Mexico has become the second biggest buyer of South Dakota's exports, mainly meat and farm goods — to the tune of nearly $400 million a year.
That arrangement has been in jeopardy because Trump's bludgeon for punishing Mexico has been NAFTA. He has repeatedly threatened to drastically renegotiate the deal or walk away from it altogether. But currency traders, by buying pesos as a vote of confidence in Mexico, are behaving as if they think Trump is more talk than action. Believe me, if they thought NAFTA was doomed they'd be selling pesos like crazy.
The NAFTA treaty is in a renegotiating phase right now. Politically-driven outbursts against it are likely now and then, but a drastic overhaul or total dissolution altogether? Not very likely. President Trump himself recently begged off his hard-line stance, telling CNN Money a month ago, "I'm leaving it a little flexible ... there's no rush."
Read another way, I think the president means that he's come to realize what a great deal NAFTA has been to big segments of the American economy and that making a hasty decision about it would be headstrong and fruitless.
South Dakota ag producers should certainly breathe sighs of relief if the status quo with Mexico remains relatively untouched. Trump's "no rush" declaration is in deference to this summer's Mexican presidential election, so it's likely that this year's crop production will be unaffected by treaty adjustments.
Meantime, we have our own congressional elections to think about this year. Republicans know that radical changes in NAFTA will anger some important constituencies. CNN Money notes that "millions of jobs in red states like Texas and Arizona depend on free trade." The Farm Bureau says that nearly 9 percent of South Dakota's jobs (about 40,000) are NAFTA-dependent.
Given all this, it's no surprise that prospects for Mexico's economy and currency are good this year. Better yet, South Dakota stands to benefit as the Trump administration sets rhetoric aside and focuses on reality.