The Australian dollar has plunged to its lowest level since the Global Financial Crisis, with the potential to fall even lower this week after key economic data from China comes out.

The local currency has come under considerable selling pressure since the beginning of the year, falling sharply from around US72.9 cents to its current US68.9 cents price tag. That represents a 5.5% decline compared to the US greenback in less than three weeks, although it did fall as low as US68.55 cents earlier today.

The reason for the heavy decline is largely due to crashing commodity prices amid an economic slowdown in China, which threatens to impact the rate of growth in our own economy due to our close ties with the global powerhouse.

Foreign investors are therefore selling our dollar in favour of other currencies such as that of the United States, hoping to part ways with the currency before it falls any further. Some economists think it will fall to the low US60s, while others think it could fall into the US50s range, although most appear to be of the belief it won’t recover anytime soon.

While it is often assumed that a weak Australian dollar is bad for our economy, a falling currency could actually provide us with some much-needed relief. A lower dollar will make Australian exports more competitive in the global market and could attract more tourists to our shores, while it will also boost the earnings of companies with significant offshore operations, including Westfield Corp Ltd (ASX: WFD) and Altium Limited (ASX: ALU).

There are several healthcare companies that should also benefit, with ResMed Inc. (CHESS) (ASX: RMD), Cochlear Ltd (ASX: COH) and CSL Limited (ASX: CSL) all generating a considerable portion of their earnings overseas. In addition to being beneficiaries of a potentially weaker Australian dollar, these companies also enjoy defensive earnings which should provide shareholders with some protection in the event of a potential economic downturn.

China’s fourth-quarter gross domestic product figures will be released on Tuesday and could generate even more volatility in the share market if the results come in lower than expected. With the exception of ResMed, shares of each of the companies mentioned above have fallen in price since the beginning of the year and could be worth a closer look for investors, especially if prices do fall any further.

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Motley Fool contributor Ryan Newman owns shares of Altium. Unless otherwise noted, the author does not have a position in any stocks mentioned by the author in the comments below. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ASXvalueinvest.

The Motley Fool Australia owns shares of Altium. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.