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Ken Bloom | USLHC | USA

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The cost of money

Now, here is a plot to make a principal investigator happy:

Swiss franc-dollar exchange rate
It is true that recent concerns about the sovereign debt in Greece is leading to uncertainties in financial markets that could hold back economic recovery around the world, which is hardly good. But one side effect has been the strengthening of the dollar against European currencies such as the Swiss franc (CHF), and that is good news for US people working at CERN.

CERN does all of its business in CHF and the costs of building and operating the experiment are calculated in CHF. However, US funding agencies of course distribute research funding in dollars. This gives the US LHC research program and researchers at US universities a significant sensitivity to exchange rates, as we receive dollars but must spend CHF. As the plot shows, the exchange rate has changed by about 13% over the past six months, which means that we now have 13% more purchasing power than we did in November. It’s not a small number. In addition, US people working at CERN are typically paid in dollars by their home institution but need to pay their living expenses in Geneva in CHF. So it is a boon to them if the exchange rate improves. (Or, if they are getting paid in CHF, then it is easier on their institutions to make payroll.)

What we don’t know, of course, is which way that graph is headed, and that makes it hard to plan and budget and so forth, especially on the timescale of years. More to the point, should I get cash out of the CERN ATM today, or wait until tomorrow?

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