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Euro, Yen Surge Against US Dollar

More woes and strikes in Greece and disagreement about ECB policy in German high courts could not discourage the euro from posting four-month highs against the USD. The euro reached its highest point, $1.3346, against the US Dollar since February 20th. Meanwhile, a lack of a policy statement from the Bank of Japan (BoJ) about the volatility of its equity markets prompted global selloffs in equities. The yen continued its surge against the dollar falling to 95.16 before settling at 95.40, down 0.6 percent on the day.

Currency market trade was light on Wednesday but the concern about Federal Reserve policy outweighed the negative sentiment from Europe and Japan.

Athens in Upheaval

Demonstrations erupted in Athens as unions rallied in support of journalists after the Samaras government unexpectedly shut down the nation’s public television station, ERT, in the middle of the night. The closing of the liberal network eliminated 2,600 jobs including 600 journalists. The Helenic Broadcasting Corporation ETR has been up and running for 75 years.

The beleaguered station only has  a 13 percent viewing rate. Several dismissed journalists continued to occupy the building in protest of the shutdown. The Athens journalistic union ESTEA immediately announced a strike. Thousands of citizens protested in front of the Athens station and then proceeded to march on the capital.

The station was closed as a result of a ministerial decree and surprised many members of the divided Parliament. Prime Minister Samaras’ short reign has been marred by controversy and dissension.

The most recent setback was the revelation that a sale for the national gas company fell through. This failure puts Greece on the verge of default with its bailout commitments. Under terms of the bailout, Greece was obligated to terminate at least 2,000 state employees. The closing of ERT meets that stipulation. However, the government has failed to meet its commitment to liquidate state-held assets.

The closing of the state television network overshadowed more serious problems. MSCI reclassified the country as an emerging market. MSCI stated that the Athens bourse has been to small for a developed economy for the past two years. This could have serious repercussions with funds that have invested in Greek bonds. Optimists believe the reclassification will open up other investment vehicles.

Yields on Greek 10-year bonds nudge above the 10 percent mark when Athens announced failure to sell DEPA, the state gas company. Equity markets traded at two month lows following the reclassification.

MSCI’s world index slipped by 0.13 percent on Wednesday. The Euro STOXX 50 index dropped 0.62 percent to 2,666.52. The euro climbed 0.27 percent.

The yen gains were sparked by the Fed’s perceived slowdown in asset buying and the BoJ’s inference that it will continue its easing program. The markets has expected a pullback by the BoJ.

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Cyprus, ECB and BoJ Weigh On Markets

As details of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between government and the “Supreme Savings‘ international lenders” were revealed on Tuesday, markets stepped back to gauge the 10 billion euro bailout. Markets also slowed in anticipation of this week’s updates from the Bank of Japan (BoJ) and the European Central Bank (ECB). Investors are concerned about whether the BoJ will scale down its proposed easing initiative. At the same time, the ECB will need to calm investor fears in the wake of the Cyprus fiasco that cost international investors billions of euros.

One of the big concerns facing the euro zone and the European Union is whether the Cyprus model is the model that could befall Spain and Italy. A general lack of confidence in the EU has led to the paring of the euro. Investors are unclear as to the direction of the BoJ and the USD rose to its highest level in two weeks against the yen.

Cyprus Turnaround Outlined

The MoU leaves little doubt about what the bailout investors, who contributed 10 billion euros to the troubled banking sector, will require of Cyprus. Meanwhile, the former finance minister resigned in anticipation of legal action for his roll as President of the country’s second largest bank, which failed last week.

As if there was not enough disgruntlement on the island nation, Cypriots are now staring at some lofty goals that are likely to impose the similar austerity sanctions other southern tier euro zone neighbors face.

The MoU says Cyprus must attain a four percent of GDP primary surplus by fiscal year 2017. This would a significant turnaround.

Reuters reports there are a number of other goals established by the MoU:

  • In 2013, Cyprus will suffer a 395 million euro budget shortfall (2.4 percent of GDP) in 2013.
  • This shortfall exceeded the 1.9 percent deficit in 2012.
  • In 2014, the deficit will expand further to 678 million euros.
  • The MoU expects the deficit to pare down to 344 million (2.1 percent GDP) by 2015.
  • In 2016, Cyprus is charged to achieve a primary surplus of 204 million euros (1.2 percent GDP) by 2016.
  • By 2017, Cyprus must achieve a 4 percent surplus by 2017.
  • Growth in Cyprus will contract by 8 percent this year.
  • Growth in Cyprus will contract 3 percent in 2014.
  • Growth will finally increase by 1 percent in 2015 and 2016.

In light of these assumptions, Cyprus has much work to do to live up to expectations. The 8 percent paring of GDP suggests a good amount of austerity will be necessary and Cypriots have thus far rejected most EU initiatives.

The MoU states that Cyprus will earn about 1.4 billion euros by selling certain state-owned assets, such as state-owned telecoms. Additionally, Cyprus expects to realize revenue from selling off rights to undersea natural gas deposits, which have been found of the island coastline.

The future of the public sector will be under pressure with new actions taken by government. The banking sector employment is already in turmoil. Now, government has announced that public sector pensions are frozen. The retirement age will be raised by 2 years. New taxes will be imposed upon alcohol, tobacco products and petrol. The VAT will be increased and corporate taxes on earnings and on interests earnings will also rise. Fees for all government services will increase by 17 percent effective immediately.

These measures are designed to ensure that debt in Cyprus is at 100 percent by 2020.

The ECB, BoJ and BoE

Investors are anxiously awaiting results from the three central banks. There are concerns that the BoJ will scale back on its proposed quantitative easing policy.

The ECB is now expected to hold steady on current interest rates. Prior to the Cyprus crisis, it was projected that the EC would raise interest rates.

In England, the BoE is expected to continue its current purchase of asset program without increasing the stimulus. British sterling gave back recent gains in anticipation of the upcoming central bank meeting. It is nervous times on the currency front.

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Japanese Yen In “No Man’s Land”

This, according to a hedge fund manager that has decided to cancel all of his fund’s bearish bets on the Japanese Yen. The reason: the yen is rising, and it’s unclear when – or even if – the government will intervene to push it back down. Even though the yen’s strength is fundamentally illogical, it seems that investors are growing increasingly wary of betting against it.

As I pointed out in my previous post on the Yen (“Japanese Yen Strength is Illogical, but Does it Matter?“), the yen has actually fallen over the last twelve months, on a correlation weighted basis (though to be fair, it has staged a pretty impressive comeback since the beginning of April). Unfortunately, investors mainly care about how it is performing against a handful of key currencies, namely the US Dollar. Simply, the yen continues to rise against the dollar, and it is unclear when it will stop.

Japanese government analysis has indeed confirmed that “speculators” are behind the strong yen, as the alleged wide-scale repatriation of yen by Japanese insurance companies has yet to materialize. Of course, there isn’t really much doubt: Japan’s economy is contracting, due to decrease in output spurred by the tsunami. In May, it recorded its second largest monthly trade deficit ever.

Meanwhile, interest rates and bond yields are pathetically low, and the Bank of Japan is being urged to expand its asset buying program, which would theoretically result in a devaluation of the yen. As  a result, retail Japanese forex traders (nicknamed “Mrs. Watanabes“) have resumed shorting the Yen as part of a carry trade strategy.

Alas, speculators either don’t share their pessimism or are running out of patience. While everyone continues to assume that the BOJ will intervene if the Yen rises to 80 against the dollar, no one can be sure whether the line in the sand might not be 78 or even 75. At this point, intervention seems to hinge more on politics than on economics, which means predicting it is beyond the scope of this post. In other words, “There is too much uncertainty and volatility in markets right now to make that yen trade appealing.” And sure enough, the most recent Commitments of Traders data shows that speculators have been re-building their yen long positions over the last month.

In the end, the speculators are probably right. The Bank of Japan has intervened twice over the last twelve months, and the impact has always been short-lived. Besides, given that many speculators still remain committed to shorting the yen, it remains extraordinarily vulnerable to the kind of short squeeze that sent it soaring 5% in a single session en route to the record high it touched in March.

I’m personally still bearish on the yen, but I also think it’s too risky to short it against the dollar, which seems to be declining for its own reasons. As you can see from the chart below, the yen has fallen against virtually every other major currency. Yen shorters, then, might be wise to avoid the dollar altogether and focus instead on any number of other currencies.


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Japanese Yen Down on Risk Aversion

It seems the gods of the forex market read my previous post on the Japanese Yen, in which I puzzled over the currency’s appreciation in the face of contradictory economic and financial factors. Since then, the Yen’s 6-month, 15% appreciation (against the US Dollar) has arrested. It has retreated from the brink of record highs, and undergone the most significant correction since March of this year. Have investors come to their senses, or what?!

You certainly can’t give the Bank of Japan (BOJ) any credit. Aside from its single-day $25 Billion intervention in September, it hasn’t entered the forex markets. In fact, it has already repaid the funds lent to it by the Ministry of Finance, which suggests that it doesn’t have any intention to replicate its earlier intervention in the immediate future, regardless of where the Yen moves.

Perhaps the BOJ foresaw the current correction in the Yen, which was probably inevitable in some ways. After all, Japanese interest rates – while gradually rising – still remain at levels that are unattractive to investors. While US short-term rates are low, long-term rates are more than 1.5% higher than their Japanese counterparts. When you factor in that Japan’s fiscal condition is worse than the US, there is really very little reason, in this aspect, to prefer Japan. As one analyst summarized, “The whole interest-rate differential argument is turning out to be dollar supportive, at least in the near term.”

The same is true for risk-averse capital. For reasons of liquidity and psychology, the Japanese Yen will continue to be a safe-haven destination in times of distress. Still, it’s hardly superior to the Dollar, in this sense. Inflation is slowly emerging (or at least, the risk of deflation is slowly abating) in Japan, and it could conceivably reach 1% this year if the Bank of Japan has its way. Its proposed 35 trillion yen ($419 billion) of asset purchases dwarfs the comparable Federal Reserve Bank’s QE2 program (in relative terms) and contradicts the notion that the Yen is the best store of value.

Japan Economic Structure - Dependence on Exports
Finally, the Japanese economy remains weak, and vulnerable to a double-dip recession. On the one hand, “Japan’s economy expanded at an annual 4.5 percent rate in the three months ended Sept. 30.” On the other hand, its economy remains heavily reliant on exports (see chart above, courtesy of Bloomberg News) to drive growth, which is complicated by the expensive Yen and concerns over a drop-off in demand from China and the rest of the world. In fact, “Exports rose 7.8 percent in October, the slowest pace this year, while industrial production fell for a fifth month and the unemployment rate climbed to 5.1 percent.” In addition, the closely watched Tankan survey registered a drop in September, “the first fall in seven quarters.” While Japanese companies are still net optimistic, analysts expect that this to change in the beginning of 2011.

For the rest of the year, how the Yen performs will depend largely on investor risk-appetite. If risk aversion predominates, then the Yen should hold its value. In addition, it’s worth pointing out that even as the Yen has fallen against the Dollar, it has appreciated against the Euro, and remained flat against a handful of other currencies. Against the US Dollar, however, I still don’t see any reason for why the Yen should trade below 85, and I expect the correction will continue to unfold.

JPY comparison chart 2010

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Japan Plots Next Yen Intervention

Almost one month has passed since the Bank of Japan (BOJ) intervened in forex markets on behalf of the Japanese Yen. In one trading session, it spent a record 2.1249 trillion yen ($25.37 billion) to obtain a 3.5% jump in the Yen. Since then, the Yen has continued to appreciate, and now it seems like it’s only a matter of time before the BOJ intervenes again…and again and again.

USD JPY Forex Intervention

Prior to intervening, Japan’s main concern was that there would be a bitter backlash from the rest of the world. On the one hand, Japan’s fears were validated by accusations that it was engaging in “currency war.” It also received a mild rebuke from US policymakers, who fretted that its intervention would cause China to reconsider allowing the Yuan to appreciate.

Others were more forgiving, however, going so far as to excuse Japan’s actions as a necessary response to Korean and Chinese intervention. After all, given that Japan competes directly with these two countries for export market share, how could it sit by idly as they actively devalued their currencies. US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner let Japan completely off the hook by telling reporters that he didn’t think Japan “set the fire”for the current dynamic in forex markets.

Deutsche Bank(which created the chart below) added, “It must be frustrating for Japanese policymakers to see other Asian economics getting away with such persistent intervention to weaken their currencies. Perhaps the final straw was the Chinese purchases of JGBs [Japanese government Bonds] which some Japanese officials argue played a prominent role in the recent JPY appreciation.” In other words, not only was China holding down its currency against the Dollar, but now it had started to target the CNY/JPY exchange rate.

Forex Reserves in Asia, Japan Forex Intervention

At next week’s G7 meeting, Japan will try to achieve a formal permission slip for its program, by arguing that, ” ‘Our intervention isn’t the kind of large-scale operations that aim to achieve certain rate levels over the long term.’ September’s intervention was only ‘aimed at curbing excess fluctuations’ in the yen’s rates.” Depending on how the G7 responds (via its official statement), it may influence the likelihood of further intervention.

From an economic standpoint, Japan also doesn’t have much to fear. The only downside from printing money wholesale and using it to buy US Dollars is the risk of inflation. In Japan, however, this would be seen as a positive development, and is hardly a constraint to further intervention: “With Japan’s economy still in the grip of deflation, the authorities have the ability and the incentive to prevent further gains in the yen.” In fact, the Bank of Japan recently “slashed its overnight ratetarget to virtually zero and pledged to purchase 5 trillion yen ($60 billion) worth of assets in a fresh dose of economic stimulus.” As the Fed prepares to do the same [more on that later this week], the BOJ’s hope is that this time around, “The yen won’t be reflexively favoured by investors turning bearish on the greenback.”

Really, then, the only question is when the BOJ will intervene. The Japanese Yen has already fallen below 82 USD/JPY, disappointing analysts that predicted the point of intervention would take place at 83/84, near the point of last month’s intervention. That it has allowed the Yen to continue to slide is somewhat baffling in that it exposes the futility of its previous efforts. The BOJ claims that it isn’t embarking on a program on continuous intervention, but this is really the only chance it has of being successful for any length of time. The Swiss National Bank (SNB) established a “line in the sand” of 1.50 EUR/SWF and spent $200 Billion defending it. Where is the the BOJ “line in the sand?” 82? 80?

In theory, this should mean that the Japanese Yen appreciation will soon come to an end. Given the fact that every other major currency (with the exception of the Euro) is being either indirectly or competitively devalued, however, this is far from certain. If Japan is serious about holding down the Yen, it may have to formally declare war.

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Currency War: Who are the Winners and Losers?

On September 27, Brazilian Finance Minister, Guido Montega, used the term “currency war” to describe the never-ending Central Bank interventions in forex markets. While he may not have intended it, the term stuck, and financial journalists everywhere have run wild with it.

In the current cycle (dating back a couple years), more than a dozen Central Banks have entered the forex markets with the intention of holding down their respective currencies, both against each other and also against the US Dollar. What makes it a war is that the Central Banks are fighting to outspend and outdo each other. It is a War of Attrition, in that Central Banks will fight until they’ve exhausted all of their wherewithal, conceding defeat for their currencies. On the other hand, unlike in a conventional war, there aren’t any alliances, nor is there much in the way of little strategy. Central Banks simply buy large blocks of counter currencies and hope their own currencies will then depreciate on the spot market. In addition, since the counter currencies are almost always Dollars and/or Euros, the participants in this war are not even competing directly against each other, but rather against an enemy that isn’t doing much to fight back.

The Swiss National Bank (SNB) was the first to intervene, and staged a one-year campaign over the course of 2009 to hold the Swiss Franc at 1.50 against the Euro. Ultimately, it failed when the sovereign debt crisis caused an exodus of Euro selling. The Bank of Brazil was next, although its interventions haver been more modest; it seems to have accepted the futility of its efforts, and will seek to slow the Real’s appreciation rather than halt it. Last month, the Bank of Japan spent $20 Billion in one session in order to show the markets how serious it is about fighting the Yen’s rise. In fact, it was this intervention that sparked Montega’s comments about currency war. (The BOJ hasn’t intervened since). All along, the People’s Bank of China has continued to add to its war chest of reserves – currently $2.5 Trillion – as part of the ongoing Yuan-Dollar peg. And of course, there have been a handful of smaller interventions (South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan) and no shortage of rhetorical (Canada, South Africa) interventions, as well as a handful of indirect (US, UK) interventions.

That’s right- don’t forget that the Fed and the Bank of England, through their respective quantitative easing programs, have injected Trillions into the financial markets and caused their currencies to weaken. In a sense, all of the subsequent interventions have been effected in order to restore the equilibrium in the currency markets that was lost when these two Central Banks deflated there currencies through wholesale money printing. Since much of this cash has found its way into emerging markets (See chart below), you can’t blame their Central Banks from trying to soften some of the upward pressure on their currencies.

It’s still too early too early to say how far the currency war will go. The G7/G20 has announced that it will address the issue at its next summit, though it probably won’t lead to much in the way of action. Ultimately, politicians can’t do much more than shake their fingers at countries that try to hold down their currencies. In the case of the Yuan-Dollar peg, American politicians have tried to take this one step further by threatening to slap China with punitive trade sanctions, but this probably won’t come to pass and may disappear as an issue altogether after the November elections. As I reported on Friday, Brazil has taken matters into its own hands by taxing all foreign capital inflows, but this hasn’t had much effect on the Real.

That brings me to my final point, which is that all currency intervention is futile in the long term, because most Central Banks have limited capacity to intervene. If they print too much money to hold down their currencies, they risk stoking inflation. Of course China is the exception to this rule, but this is less because of the size of its war chest and more because of the mechanics of its exchange rate regime. For Central Banks to successfully manipulate their currencies on the spot market, they must fight against the Trillions of Dollars in daily forex turnover. Eventually, every Central Bank must reckon with this truism.

In terms of identifying the winners and losers of the currency war (as I promised to do in the title of this post, the Euro will probably lose (read: appreciate) because the ECB is not willing to participate. The same goes for the Swiss Franc, since the SNB has basically forsaken currency intervention for the time being. The Bank of Japan has deep pockets, and if the markets push the Yen back up above 85 Yen/Dollar, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it intervene again. With the Fed mulling an expansion of its quantitative easing program, meanwhile, the Dollar will probably continue to sink. And as for the countries that are doing the actual intervening, they might succeed in temporarily holding down the valuer of their respective currencies.  As capital shifts to emerging markets over the long-term, however, their currencies will soon resume rising.

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Japan Finally Intervenes in Forex Markets

After months of speculation, the Bank of Japan (BOJ) has finally intervened in the currency markets. As the plummeted towards a fresh low against the Dollar, the BOJ swiftly entered the market, driving the Yen up 2% instantly. On the day, it finished 3% higher against the Dollar.

Over the last few weeks, Japan had been inching slowly towards intervention. [In fact, I was prepared to write a post yesterday about intervention being imminent, but that is neither here nor there…] The Finance Minister, Governors of the Central Bank, Members of Parliament, and even the Prime Minister himself had started to become increasingly vocal about the Yen’s un-halting rise, and the need to control it. It had already touched a 15-year high, and was only 4% away from it’s all-time low. With rhetorical intervention and its easy monetary policy failing to sway investors, the Bank of Japan sold an estimated $20 Billion worth of Yen on the open market.

BOJ Japanese Yen Intervention September 2010 

By no coincidence, the intervention was carried out only one day after a Parliamentary vote to see whether Naoto Kan would be replaced as Prime Minister. Having defeated Ichiro Ozawa and survived the challenge, Kan evidently was determined to make good on his promise to rescue the economy from the brink of another downturn. (Only a few days earlier, he admitted, “We’re conducting various talks, so other countries won’t say negative things when Japan acts. We’re studying now various scenarios, examining possible responses from markets when we take a decisive measure.”)

Reaction to the intervention has been mixed. On the one hand, the fact that the BOJ waited so long before stepping in is evidence that this measure was taken out of desperation. According to Billionaire investor George Soros, “Japan was right to act to bring down the value of the yen. ‘Certainly, they are hurting because the currency is too strong so I think they are right to intervene.’ ” Politicians and policymakers, on the other hand, were not so kind. One US Senator called the move “disturbing” and Jeane-Claude Trichet, President of the ECB, said it was “not…appropriate.”

From these snippets, then, it’s clear that the intervention is being conducted unilaterally and lacks any support from other Central Banks. Thus, if the BOJ is to continue selling the Yen, it will do so alone and perhaps even under the open contempt of other Central Banks. At the same time, it appears to have some credibility with investors, who may back off the Yen for the time being. That’s because the BOJ is trying to make owning the Yen as unattractive as possible, by driving down interest rates and attempting to spur inflation. Whether investors will take the hint and stop and return to using the Yen as a funding currency for the carry trade is still unclear. (Despite unraveling significantly over the last two years, the Yen carry trade may still exceed $500 Billion). Japan also has to contend with China, which has been putting upward pressure on the Yen by buying Japanese bonds.

For that matter, it’s not even clear whether the BOJ will continue to intervene. Perhaps it just wanted to send a message to investors by showing that it can weaken the Yen any time it wants. Besides, a protracted campaign to hold down the Yen would be expensive and doomed to failure over the long-term, as the BOJ learned the hard way in 2003-2004 and has probably been reminded of by the Swiss National Bank’s recent failure to weaken the Franc. On the other hand, the BOJ needs to show investors that it is serious, and a “shock and awe” intervention campaign is probably the only real way to achieve this.

Either way, I think it’s fair to say that those who bet on the Yen do so at their own peril. While I don’t think the Yen is suddenly going to return to 100 JPY/USD, the fact that my personal reserves are not nearly as vast as those of the Bank of Japan means I’m not inclined to bet on it…

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Japanese Yen: Intervention is Imminent?

I last mused about the possibility of Japanese Yen intervention in June (Japanese Yen: 90 or 95?): “It seems that anything between 90 and 95 is acceptable, while a drop below 90 is cause for intervention.” Since then, the Japanese Yen has fallen below 86 Yen per Dollar (the USD/JPY pair is now down 7% on the year), and analysts are beginning to wonder aloud about when the Bank of Japan (BOJ) will step in.

The BOJ last intervened in 2004. Given both the price tag ($250 Billion) and the fact that in hindsight its efforts were futile, it appears somewhat determined to avoid that route if possible. In addition, any intervention would have to be implemented unilaterally, since the goal of a cheaper Yen is not shared by any other Central Banks. As if that were not enough, the cause of intervention would be further contradicted by improving reports on the economy and by higher-than-forecast earnings by Japanese exporters, both in spite of the strong Yen.

JPY USD 1 Year Chart 2010

Finally, the Bank of Japan would be wise to consider that it is impossible to calculate an ideal exchange rate, since prior to intervening in 2004, it declared that ” ‘a dollar at ¥115.00 is the ultimate life-and-death line for Japanese exporters.’ ” Six years later, the Yen is 25% more expensive, and Japanese exporters appear to be doing just fine. On the other hand, “If the yen keeps rising, BOJ officials may become more concerned over whether exports will really continue to grow and prop up the economy.”

Analysts remain mixed about the likelihood/desirability of intervention. Most admit that as with the last time around, it would be an exercise in futilty, since “the yen’s gain isn’t being driven by speculation,” and investors would probably be willing to buy any Yen that the Central Bank sells. Instead, the BOJ will probably continue to pursue a policy of vocal intervention, which can be equally effective and much less expensive.

Government officials – at least the ones with any jurisdiction in currency issues – have remained reticent on the topic of intervention. That’s not to say that they couldn’t be swayed by pressure from the Minister of Trade and others, which have repeatedly voiced their irritation over the Yen’s strength.

Ultimately, trying to predict whether intervention will take place is probably just as futile as any intervention, itself. Still, 85 is a level of obvious psychological importance, as is 84.83, the 14-year high set last November. If the Yen drifts below that, one would expect the Bank of Japan to at least make a token effort to depend the Yen. Even if the economy can withstand a weaker Yen, it will nonetheless benefit from a stronger Yen, and regardless of what the BOJ says, that is what it would like to see.

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Japan’s Fujii Still Confused about Intervention

My last update on the Japanese Yen was published on October 16 (”Japan Flip-Flops on Forex Intervention). As the title suggests, I sought to overview the many instances of equivocation committed by newly-appointed Finance Minister Hirohisa Fujii in the name of Japan’s forex policy. I concluded that at that time, it was probably still premature to talk about forex intervention, but that if “the Yen continues to appreciate, then Fujii may have consider how fixed his [non-intervention] principles really are.”

Since then, two things have happened. [Well really only one thing, since the second is more of a “non-happening.”] Anyway, the first is that the Yen broke through the important technical/psychological level of 85 Yen/Dollar for the first time in 14 years. The second is that Mr. Fujii is still no closer to articulating a coherent approach to managing the Yen. Last week, alone, he referred to movements in the Japanese Yen as “extreme” and suggested that now was the time to remain vigilant and that “appropriate measures” are “possible.” A few days later, however, he called intervention “unthinkable.”


Given this nearly uninterrupted record of waffling, one might think to accuse Mr. Fujii of deliberately trying to confuse the markets. After all, how else can one explain the hourly changes in his forex policy. It’s ironic that Fujii himself has told reporters that, “It’s wrong to fuss over the currency market’s daily movement,” considering that his feelings on intervention seem to fluctuate in accordance with the Yen.

Thankfully, we may not have to deal with this carnival of uncertainty for much longer, as the Bank recently told reporters that “The government, not the BOJ, decides whether to intervene in currency markets.” At the same time, intervention would ultimately be carried out only under the auspices of the BOJ, which would presumably have the authority to determine a targeted valuation.
As for the million-Dollar question of whether intervention is more likely now that the Japanese Yen is closing in on a post-war record, it’s a bit more nebulous than it was in October. It seems that the political will now exists to intervene. The main obstacles are Fujii, himself, who had earlier pledged to administer a free-market approach to managing the Yen, and the international community.

Given that Japan still runs a trade surplus, it would be difficult to justify forex intervention. In addition, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) made election promises to wean the Japanese economy off of its dependency on exports to drive growth and instead to cultivate a domestic consumer base. This promise was apparently reiterated to US President Obama during his visit to Japan earlier this month, and would be greatly embarassing if Japanese economic officials reneged so soon thereafter.

At the same time, politicians (of any nationality) are not exactly known for their integrity and their consistency, so it wouldn’t be surprising if they decided that in the context of the Yen’s continued strength that they decided to take action. “The sense of caution over the possibility of intervention is definitely higher now after the breach of Y85.00. We are all watching for any more comments from the authorities.” Given the political implications, however, it seems the more likely course of action would involve a tweaking of monetary policy – quantitative easing, under the guise of deflation fighting – rather than outright intervention. Such would be less awkward than intervention, and probably more successful.

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