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Japanese Yen In “No Man’s Land”

Jun. 20th 2011

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.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-06-17/japan-recovery-means-boj-can-avoid-adding-stimulus-muto-says.html
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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Japanese Yen | 3 Comments »

How to Trade the Franc-Yen-Dollar Correlation

Jun. 6th 2011

Last week, the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled, “Currency Correlations Lose Their Way for Now.” My response: It depends on which currencies you’re looking at. I, too, recently posted about the break-down of multi-year correlations, specifically involving the Australian Dollar and the New Zealand Dollar. However, one has to look no further than the Swiss Franc to see that in fact currency correlations are not only extant, but flourishing!

I stumbled upon this correlation inadvertently, with the intention (call it a twisted hobby…) of refuting the crux of the WSJ article, which is that “Standard relationships between risk appetite and safe havens, and yields and risky assets, are lost as investors appear to scramble in their efforts to adapt to a new direction.” Basically, the author asserted that forex traders are searching for guidance amidst conflicting signals, but this has caused the three traditional safe haven currencies to behave erratically: apparently, the Franc has soared, the Yen has crashed, and the US Dollar has stagnated.


I pulled up a one-year chart of the CHFUSD and the CHFJPY in order to confirm that this was indeed the case. As you can see from the chart above, it most certainly is not. With scant exception, the Swiss Franc’s rise against both the US Dollar and the Japanese Yen has been both consistent and dependable. The only reason that there is any gap between the two pairs is because the Yen has outperformed the dollar over the same time period. If you shorten the time frame to six months or less, the two pairs come very close to complete convergence.

In order to provide more support for this observation, I turned to the currency correlations page of Mataf.net (the founder of which I interviewed only last month). Sure enough, there is a current weekly correlation of 93% [it is displayed as negative below because of the way the currencies are ordered] between the CHFUSD and the CHFJPY, which is to say that the two are almost perfectly correlated. (Incidentally, the correlation coefficient between the USDCHF and the USDJPY is a solid 81%, which shows that relative to the Dollar, the Yen and Franc are highly correlated). Moreover, if Mataf.net offered correlation data based on monthly fluctuations, my guess it that the correlations would be even tighter. In any event, you can see from the chart that even the weekly correlation has been quite strong for most of the weeks over the last year.


The first question most traders will invariably ask is, “Why is this the case?” What is causing this correlation? In a nutshell, the answer is that the WSJ is wrong. As I wrote last month, the safe haven trade is alive and well. Otherwise, why would two currencies as disparate as the Franc and the Yen (whose economic, fiscal, and monetary situations couldn’t be more different) be moving in tandem? The fact that they are highly correlated shows that regardless of whether they are rising or falling is less noteworthy than the fact that they tend to rise and fall together. Generally speaking, when there is aversion to risk, both rise. When there is appetite for risk, they both fall.

The superseding question is, “What should I do with this information?” Here’s an idea: how about using this correlation for diversification purposes? In other words, if you were to make a bet on risk aversion, for example, why not sell both the USDJPY as well as the USDCHF? In this way, you can trade this idea without putting all of your eggs in one basket. If risk aversion picks up, but Japan defaults on its debt (an extreme possibility, but you see my point), you would certainly do better than if you had only sold the USDJPY. The same goes for making a bet on the Franc. Whether you believe it will continue rising or instead suffer a correction, you can limit your exposure to counter currency (i.e. the dollar and yen) risk by trading two (or more) correlated pairs simultaneously.

In the end, just knowing that the correlation exists is often enough because of what it tells you about the mindset of investors.  In this case, it is just more proof that they remain heavily fixated on the idea of risk.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Japanese Yen, Swiss Franc, US Dollar | 2 Comments »

Japanese Yen Strength is Illogical, but Does it Matter?

May. 21st 2011

On a correlation-weighted basis, the Japanese Yen has been one of the world’s weakest performing currencies in 2011. Alas, while this information is interesting for theoretical purposes, it is of little concern to traders, who focus instead on individual pairs. Against the dollar (USDJPY), the Japanese yen is still quite strong, having recovered most of the losses inflicted upon it by the coordinated G7 intervention in March. Does the yen deserve such a lofty valuation? No. Will it continue to remain strong as the dollar? Well, that is a different question altogether.

As a fundamental analyst, I am inclined to look at the data before making a determination on whether a particular currency will rise or fall. In this case, the fundamentals underlying the yen are beyond abysmal. The recent release of Q1 GDP showed a 3.7% contraction in GDP. Thanks to an interminable streak of weak growth combined with deflation, Japan’s nominal GDP is incredibly the same as it was in 1996! Based on industrial production, consumption, and other economic indicators – all of which were negatively impacted by the earthquake/tsunami – this trend will undoubtedly continue.

The only force that is keeping Japan’s economy afloat is government spending. While this was a necessary response to anemic growth and natural disaster, it is clearly a double-edged sword. The government’s own (inherently optimistic) forecasts show a budget deficit of 5% in 2015, which doesn’t even include the costs of rebuilding the earthquake region. This will necessitate tax hikes, which will further erode growth, requiring ever more government spending. It seems self-evident that Japan’s national debt will remain the highest in the G7 for the foreseeable future.

From a macro standpoint, there is very little to be gained from investing in Japan. The stock market continues to tank, and bond yields are the lowest in the world. To be fair, years of deflation have made the yen an excellent store of value, but this is hardly of interest to speculator, whose time horizons are usually measured in weeks and months, rather than years and decades.

If not for the yen’s safe haven status, it would and does make an excellent funding currency for the carry trade. Short-term rates are around 0%, and the Bank of Japan (BOJ) has made it clear that this will remain the case at least into 2013. As you can see from the chart above (which mimics a strategy designed to take advantage of interest rate differentials), the carry trade is alive and well. Granted, it has suffered a bit since 2010, due to increased fiscal and financial uncertainty. However, given that the rate gap between high-yielding emerging market currencies and low-yield G7 currencies continues to widen, this strategy should remain viable.

And yet, the Yen continues to rise against the US dollar. It has receded in the last couple weeks, but remains close to the magic level of 80, and it’s not hard to find bullish analysts that expect it to keep rising. They argue that Japanese investors are eschewing risky asset, and that the yen remains an attractive safe haven currency. Not to mention that volatility (aka uncertainty) serves as an effective deterrent to those thinking about shorting it and/or using it as a funding currency for carry trades.

Personally, I’m not so sure that this is the case. If you look at the way the yen has performed against the Swiss Franc, for example, the picture is completely reversed. The Franc has risen 20% against the Yen over the last twelve months, which shows that heads-up, the Yen is hardly the world’s go-to safe haven currency. In addition, you can see from the chart below that on a composite basis, the yen peaked during the height of the financial crisis in 2009, and has since fallen by more than 10%. This shows that its performance in 2011 should be seen as much as dollar weakness as yen strength. Since I’ve spent countless previous posts explaining why I think dollar bearishness is overblown, I won’t revisit that topic here.

In the end, the majority of traders don’t care about this nuance – that the Yen has conformed to fundamental logic and depreciated in the wake of the natural disasters against a basket of currencies – and want to know only whether the yen will rise or fall against the dollar. Even though, I think that shorting the Yen remains an attractive (and as I argued yesterday, comparatively riskless) proposition. Given that the dollar also remains weak, however, traders would be wise to short it against other currencies.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Japanese Yen | 1 Comment »

G7 Leads Shift in Forex Reserves

May. 20th 2011

As you can see from the chart below, the world’s foreign exchange reserves (held by central banks) have undergone a veritable explosion over the last decade. While emerging markets (especially China!) have accounted for the majority of this growth, there are indications that this could soon change. China’s reserve accumulation is set to slow, while advanced economies’ reserves are set to increase.


In the past, central banks from advanced economies have accumulated reserves only sparingly, and in fact, much of this growth can be claimed by Japan. This is no mystery. While held by emerging economy central banks, most of the reserves are denominated in advanced economy currencies. This has ensured a plentiful supply of cheap capital, to support both economic expansion and perennial current account deficits (namely in the US!). In addition, advanced economy central bankers tend to hew towards economic orthodoxy, which precludes them from intervening in forex markets, and obviates the need to accumulate forex reserves. Emerging economies, on the other hand, depend principally on exports to drive growth. As a result, many are driven towards holding down their currencies in order to maintain competitiveness. China has taken this to an extreme, by exercising rigid control over the value of the Yuan, and necessitating the accumulation of $3 trillion in foreign exchange reserves.

This trend accelerated in 2010 with the inception of the so-called currency wars (which have not yet abated). Competing primarily with each other, emerging economies bought vast sums of foreign currency in order to promote economic recovery. Many countries from South America and Asia which don’t normally intervene were also drawn in. The result was a tremendous accumulation of foreign exchange reserves, which is reflected in the chart above.

There is already evidence that this phenomenon is starting to reverse itself. Consider first that advanced economies have participated in the currency wars as well. Japan’s reserves have swelled to more than $1.1 Trillion. Switzerland spent $200 Billion defending the Franc, and South Korea has spent more than $300 Billion over the last five years trying to hold down the Won. The Bank of England (BOE) recently announced plans to rebuild its reserves (the majority of which were redeployed towards gilt purchases). The European Central Bank (ECB) has announced similar plans, and may be joined by the Bank of Canada and US Federal Reserve Bank.

Advanced economies need currency reserves for a couple reasons. First of all, they can no longer rely on monetary easing to reduce their exchange rates because of the inflationary side-effects. Second, the recent coordinated intervention on Japan’s behalf showed that the G7 will move to protect its members when need be. Finally, political forces are compelling advanced economies to slow the outflow of jobs and production, and this requires more competitive exchange rates.

Emerging economies, meanwhile, are starting to recognize that unchecked reserve accumulation is neither sustainable nor desirable. First of all, managing those reserves can be tricky. Intervention is not free, and exchange rate and investment losses must be accounted for somewhere. Second, continued intervention has several detrimental byproducts, namely inflation and the handicapping of domestic industry. Finally, emerging economy currency appreciation is inevitable. Constant intervention merely forestalls the inevitable and invites unending speculation and inflows of hot-money.

There are a few of ways that currency investors can position themselves for this change. As emerging market economies stop the accumulation of (or worse, sell off) their reserves, a major source of demand for advanced economy currency will be curtailed. This will accelerate the broad-based appreciation of emerging market currencies against their advanced economy counterparts. At the same time, I’m not sure how much reshuffling we will say in the composition of reserves. The euro is plagued by existential uncertainty, while the yen and pound have serious fiscal problems. In the short-term, the Chinese Yuan is prevented by several factors from becoming a legitimate reserve currency, namely that it is too difficult to obtain. (As soon as this changes, you can bet that emerging economy central banks will begin accumulating it. After all, they are competing with China – not with the US). The dollar is certainly also an “ugly” currency, but given the size of the US economy, the depth of its capital markets, and the liquidity with which the dollar can be traded, it will remain the go-to choice for the immediate future.

In the short-term, traders that wish to short advanced economy currencies (namely the Japanese yen) can do so in the secure knowledge that they are backstopped by the G7 central banks. It’s like you have an automatic put option that limits downside losses. If the Yen falls, you win! If the yen rises, the BOJ & G7 should step in, and at least you won’t lose!

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Emerging Currencies, Japanese Yen | No Comments »

What’s Next for the Yen?

Apr. 13th 2011

After the G7 intervened in forex markets last month, the Yen fell dramatically and bearishness spiked in line with my prediction. Over the last week, however, the Yen appears to have bottomed out and is now starting to claw back some its losses. One has to wonder: is the Yen heading back towards record highs or will it peak soon and resume its decline?


Some analysts have ascribed tremendous influence to the G7, since the Yen fell by a whopping 5% following its intervention. From a mathematical standpoint, however, it would be virtually impossible or the G7 to single-handedly depress the Yen. That’s because the Yen holdings of G7 Central Banks are decidedly small. For example, the Fed holds only $14 Billion in Yen-denominated assets (compared to the Bank of Japan’s $800+ Billion in Dollar assets), of which it deployed only $600 million towards the Yen intervention effort. Even if the Bank of Japan is covertly intervened (by printing money and advancing it to other Central Banks), its efforts would still pale in comparison to overall Yen exchanges. Trading in the USD/JPY pair alone accounts for an estimated $570 Billion per day. Thus, given the minuscule amounts in question, it would be unfeasible for the Central Banks alone to move the Yen.

Instead, I think that speculators – which were responsible for the Yen’s spike to begin with – purposefully decided to stack their chips on the side of the G7. Given the unprecedented nature of the intervention, and the resolute way in which it was carried out, it would certainly seem foolish to bet against it in the short-term.  In fact, the consensus is that, “Investors are confident that the G7 won’t let the yen go below 80 versus the dollar again.” Still, this notion implies that if speculators change their minds and are determined to bet on the Yen, the G7 will be virtually powerless to block their efforts.

For now, speculators lack any reason to bet on the Yen. Aside from the persistent financial uncertainty that has buttressed the Yen since the the 2008 credit crisis, almost all other forces are Yen-negative. First, the crisis in Japan has yet to abate, with this week bringing a fresh aftershock and an upgrading of the seriousness of the nuclear situation. The hit to GDP will be significant, and a chunk of stock market equity has been permanently destroyed.


Thus, foreign institutional interest in Yen assets – which initially surged as investors swooped in following the 20% drop in the Nikkei 225 average – has probably peaked. The Bank of Japan will probably continue to flood the markets with Yen, and the government of Japan will need to issue a large amount of debt in order to pay for the rebuilding effort. Given Japan’s already weak fiscal situation, it seems unlikely that it can count on foreign sources of funding.

Even worse for the Yen is that Japanese retail traders (which account for 30% of Yen trading) seem to have shifted to betting against it. They are now driving a revival in the carry trade, prompting the Yen to fall to a one-year low against the Euro (helped by the recent ECB rate hike) and a multi-year low against the Australian Dollar. “Data from the Commodity and Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) showed speculators went net short on the yen for the first time in six weeks and by the biggest margin since May 2010 at a net 43,231 contracts in the week to April 5.”

It’s certainly possible that investors will take profits from the the Yen’s fall, and in fact, the recent correction suggests that this is already taking place. However, the markets will almost certainly remain wary of pushing things too far, lest they trigger another G7 intervention. In this way, Yen weakness should become self-fulfilling, since speculators can short with the confidence that another squeeze is unlikely, and simply sit back and collect interest.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Japanese Yen | No Comments »

Wild Ride for the Yen

Mar. 19th 2011

The last week has witnessed unprecedented volatility in the Japanese Yen. Following the earthquake/tsunami and the inception of a nuclear crisis, the Yen defied all logic (and embarrassingly, my own predictionsmea culpa) by rising to a post-World War II high of 76.36 against the Dollar. Then, as rumors of Central Bank intervention began to circulate, it suddenly shot downwards, before resuming a steady upward path. Who knows what next week will bring?!

It’s unclear exactly what’s driving the Yen. Personally, it seems a no-brainer that the string of natural disasters that ravaged Japan would have caused an outflow of foreign capital and a drop in demand (due to a lack of supply) for Japanese imports. In reality, investors began to fear a wholesale selling of Japanese-owned foreign securities widespread repatriation of Japanese Yen by insurance companies and other financial institutions, in order to raise funds for rebuilding and the payout of insurance claims.

While there is still no evidence that such has actually taken place (in fact, the Japanese stock market collapsed as expected, and overseas markets experienced only modest declines), speculators feared the worse, and moved to unload all of their Yen short positions. As hedge funds and domestic Japanese investors tried to exit their Yen carry trades, it caused the market to panic, and the Dollar to fall off a cliff against the Yen, rising 3% in a matter of minutes! As if it wasn’t immediately obvious, “Asset managers, hedge funds, corporates and private clients were all net buyers of the yen for the first time since October,” which means that what we’re basically witnessing is really just a massive short squeeze.

As a result of the highly unusual circumstances, the G7 Finance Ministers held an emergency meeting. The decided not only to offer moral support to the Bank of Japan, but that all G7 Central Banks (Fed, ECB, Bank of Canada, Bank of England) would jointly act to hold down the Yen. Sure enough, the Fed confirmed yesterday that it intervened in the forex markets (probably by selling Yen) for the first time in a decade! This marks a massive about-face from 2010, when Japan was uniformly criticized by the G7 for entering the currency war. Desperate times call for desperate measures…

The Yen has since resumed its appreciation, which has a few implications. First of all, it shows that speculators are still nervous about carry trades that are funded by Yen and continue to think of Japan as a safe haven. This is especially true of domestic Japanese investors, who are naturally bound to become more conservative in the wake of the recent natural disasters. No one knows for certain the size of the Yen carry trade, but 2010 estimates pegged it around $1 Trillion. (Japanese investors purchased $1.25 Trillion in foreign assets between 2005 and 2010 alone!) If that’s the case, there is still quite a bit more unwinding that can be done. In addition, given that Japan is the world’s largest net creditor [the Bank of Japan owns $900 Billion in US Treasury securities, while Japanese sovereign debt is 95% owned by domestic investors], the phenomenon of risk-aversion would be net positive for the Yen.

Second, it shows that investors are skeptical that the Yen’s appreciation can be contained. And if market forces are determined to push the Yen upwards, they are probably right. Simply, the G7 Central Banks (not including Japan) have very limited Yen holdings, which means there is only so much Yen they can sell.

On the flipside, the Bank of Japan has potentially an unlimited supply of Yen at its disposal. In fact, the BOJ already expanded its money printing / quantitative easing program, by “doubling planned purchases of exchange-traded funds, real estate investment trusts, corporate debt, and Japanese government bonds to 10 trillion yen, and launching a program to supply financial institutions with 30 trillion yen in three- and six-month loans at 0.1 percent interest.” This is on top of the 28 trillion yen ($346 billion) that is had already injected into the financial system. While perennial deflation has afforded the BOJ a wide scope, it must still tread cautiously, lest it add inflation (and stagflation) to the country’s list of problems.

Some analyst point to the Kobe earthquake of 1995 as a basis for Yen bullishness. After a one-month lull, the Yen dramatically surged upward, rising 20% in only two months. That disaster also took place towards the end of the Japanese fiscal year (March 31), and seems to suggest that a proportionate Yen rise should take place this time, too.

On the other hand, the Yen proceeded to drop 50% in the two years following the Kobe earthquake, showing the extent to which investors had gotten ahead of themselves. In other words, while there might be significant repatriation of Yen in the short-term, this will more than be outweighed by the decline in GDP, collapse in production/exports, and destruction of stock market value over the long-term.

Until the nuclear crisis is resolved and estimates of the cost (currently pegged at $100-200 Billion) of reconstruction are finalized, the markets will remain jittery. And we all know that volatility will not help the Yen carry trade. Given the BOJ’s determination to hold down the Yen, and the fact that this crisis will only exacerbate Japan’s fiscal issues and its unending economic decline, I’m personally still long-term bearish on the Yen.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Japanese Yen | 4 Comments »

Yen In Trouble, Even Before Earthquake

Mar. 11th 2011

Even before today’s devastatingly tragic earthquake, a confluence of negative factors had begun to pile up behind the Yen. Low interest rates. Low GDP growth. Political infighting. Record national debt. Declining current account surplus. Lack of interest in investing in Japan. In short, while the Yen deserves credit for perseverance, I have to believe that the day of reckoning is near.

On the one hand, Japanese exporters appear to be adapting well to the high Yen, and most of the well-known companies are recording healthy profits. On the other hand, Japan recorded its first trade deficit in two years, and the second largest since 1985. Its current account surplus also fell to a modest $5 Billion, on the basis of high oil prices and declining investment inflows. It seems that both foreign and domestic investors are becoming more wary about Japan, which is being reflected in more capital going out and less coming in. Business Week recently reported that “Investment flows into Japanese mutual funds that focus on offshore assets rose 14 percent to 624.6 billion yen ($7.51 billion) in January from a year earlier.”

In fact, this trend is being driven in part by low interest rates. Japan’s benchmark rate is basically nil, and long-term rates are proportionately minuscule. If not for perennial deflation, real interest rates would probably be the lowest in the world. Given that the Bank of Japan probably won’t raise interest rates for another two years (it’s actually quite ridiculous to even broach the possibility at this point, given that it hasn’t even finished unrolling its monetary easing plan), this phenomenon will only further entrench itself.

It seems that the forex markets are finally taking notice, due in part to last week’s rumblings about ECB rate hikes. As a result, the Japanese Yen is set to resume its role as the funding currency of choice for carry trades. According to a Bloomberg News analysis, in 2011, “Carry trades using the yen gained 23.8 percent [on an annualized basis], compared with 2.8 percent in dollar-funded trades.”That represents an about-face from 2010, when the Dollar was the most profitable funding currency. In addition, volatility is slowly returning to pre-credit crisis levels, increasing the stability (and hence, attractiveness) of the carry trade.

As if that wasn’t enough, the government of Japan continues to run massive budget deficits. Wary of the growing national debt (and perhaps of the recent downgrade of Japan’s sovereign credit rating), the legislature appears unwilling to sanction the issuance of more debt. For better or worse, the resultant political standoff could lead to the ousting of Prime Minister Naoto Kan. If recent history is any indication, it seems unlikely that his successor will break through the political stalemate that seems to plague the country.

It’s hard to find a single analyst that is bullish on the Yen. “The yen may weaken to 86 per dollar by the end of the second quarter and 90 by the end of the year, according a Bloomberg News survey of 40 forecasters.” Meanwhile, speculators are net short the Yen for the first time this year, according to the most recent CFTC Commitment of Traders report. It has already weakened 8% (on a trade-weighted basis) from its 2010 peak, and has depreciated against every single major currency in 2011. Perhaps the strongest indication is that the Bank of Japan has announced that it is no longer preoccupied with the Yen, despite the fact that it is still within striking distance of its all-time high against the Dollar.

In short, while I hesitate to broach the earthquake again for fear of sounding callous, I think it might just provide investors with the excuse they need to send the Yen down, down, down.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Japanese Yen | 2 Comments »

Ratings Downgrade “Dents” Japanese Yen

Feb. 1st 2011

Last week, S&P fulfilled rumors by lowering the Sovereign credit rating of Japan. The move immediately sparked headlines filled with words like “roil” and “turmoil,” and analysts predicted the beginning of a massive correction, like the kind that I forecast in January. I decided to wait a few days before posting on this story, in order to wait for the dust to settle. I’m glad I did, since the Yen’s stubborn refusal to slide further beggars some kind of explanation!

In hindsight, the Yen’s 1% fall during that day’s trading session was modest by any standards, despite the financial media’s attempt to characterize it as extraordinary. Even those analysts which conceded that the decline in the Yen was pretty mundane argued that depreciation would begin in earnest after the forex markets had a chance to digest the full impact of the downgrade. Simon Derrick, senior currency strategist at Bank of New York Mellon told the Wall Street Journal, “I would not be surprised if there is a second wave of yen weakness associated with the New York open.”

As much as one would have expected the downgrade to make a bigger splash, there are a couple of explanations for why it didn’t. First of all, the move was relatively modest – from AA to AA- – and S&P indicated that there wasn’t any risk of further downgrades in the immediate future. Second, as I reported in mid-January, rumors of a rating cut have been circulating for quite some time. When you look at the abysmal state of Japanese government finances, it was really only a matter of time before the rating agencies woke up to reality. Japanese public debt is projected to reach a whopping 204% of GDP this year, and according to S&P, it has no “coherent strategy” to address the problem.

Most important, the majority of Japan’s sovereign debt (~95%) is held by domestic investors, which means that the impact of any foreign capital flight would have been extremely limited. Due to perennially low interest rates, Japanese savers have few options but to stash their cash in Japanese government bonds, the yields on which hardly budged as a result of the downgrade and are still extraordinarily low.

It’s hard to say whether this situation will change. On the one hand, a substantial portion of Japanese investors seem to recognize that keeping money at home is a losing proposition. “According to the Bank of Japan, individuals held about 4.83 trillion yen ($58.87 billion) in foreign-currency deposits at Japanese banks as of the end of November last year, up 2.8%from a year ago and the highest since the central bank started providing the data in April 1999.” Due to an aging population, increased appetite for risk, and widening yield differentials, this trend is projected to continue for the immediate future.


On the other hand, all of this capital outflow is necessarily already reflected in the Yen, which has remained strong in spite of the carry trade. Perhaps the Japanese economy has been underestimated. While the current account surplus has showed signs of narrowing, it nonetheless remains a surplus. Perhaps that’s because Japanese companies are have proven that they are capable of adapting to the rising Yen, by either lowering costs or shifting production abroad. While Japanese retail investors move money abroad, Japanese companies are repatriating a steady stream of profits back home.

Personally, I stand bythe claims that I made in my last post and my prognosis that the Yen will depreciate in 2011. I guess it’s going to take more than a ratings downgrade to ignite the correction. Maybe another intervention from the Bank of Japan will get it moving in the opposite direction…but that’s a topic for another day.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Japanese Yen | 2 Comments »

Japanese Yen Due for a Correction in 2011

Jan. 14th 2011

Based on every measure, the Japanese Yen was the world’s best performing major currency in 2010. It notched up gains every one of its 16 major counterparts, and was the only G4 currency to appreciate on a trade-weighted basis. Against the US Dollar, it rose 10%, and touched a 15-year high in the process. However, there is reason to believe that the Yen is now overvalued, and that 2011 will see it decline to more sustainable levels.


I am still somewhat baffled as to why the Yen has risen so inexorably. It is said that “Hindsight is 20/20,” but in this case the benefit of hindsight doesn’t really provide any additional clarity. Of course, there was the Eurozone Sovereign debt crisis and the consequent shift of funds into safe-haven currencies, but let’s not forget that the fiscal problems of Japan are even more pronounced than in the EU. Premiums on credit default swaps signal that the probability of a Japanese government default is twice as high as it is for the US, and there are rumors of a downgrade in its sovereign credit rating. As one commentator summarized, “Just how the Japanese have got away with running up a debt to GDP ratio of over 200% (higher than the PIIGS and the U.S.) is beyond me.” Of course, it helps that this debt is financed almost entirely by domestic savings and is consequently not vulnerable to the changing whims of foreigners, but even so!

Meanwhile, the opportunity cost of investing in Japan is high. While inflation is moot, equity returns are low and bond yields are even lower. “Japanese 10-year yields, the lowest among 32 bond markets tracked by Bloomberg data, will end 2011 at 1.24 percent from 1.19 percent today, according to a weighted forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News.” Combined with low short-term rates, it would seem that the Japanese Yen would be the perfect candidate for a carry trade strategy.

Although foreigners remain net buyers of Japanese Yen, the current account/trade surplus is gradually narrowing, with the former falling 16% year-over-year and the latter dropping 46%. It seems that “consumers overseas increasingly spurn Japanese products in favor of lower-priced goods from South Korea and other nations.”


Even the Japanese seem to prefer other currencies. According to NIKKEI, “Japanese investors were net buyers of foreign mid- and long-term bonds to the tune of 21.94 trillion yen in 2010, the most since comparable data began being compiled in January 2005.” Japanese companies are also taking advantage of the expensive Yen and strong balance sheets to buy overseas assets. The Economist reports that, “Japanese companies are sitting on a hoard of cash totalling more than ¥202 trillion ($2.4 trillion)…Many companies have earmarked vast sums for acquisitions in 2011 and beyond.”

With GDP projected to fall to 1% in 2011, there would seem to be very little reason to continue buying the Yen. According to the most recent CFTC Commitment of Traders Report, speculators are building up massive short positions in the Yen. Meanwhile, the Central Bank of China is quietly paring down its Yen holdings. Even the Bank of Japan seems to have embraced this inevitability, as it is has already stopped intervening in forex markets on the Yen’s behalf.

According to a Bloomberg News Survey, “Japan’s currency will tumble almost 10 percent against the dollar this year.” Very few analysts think that the bottom will complete fall out from under the Yen, but the majority (myself included) expect a correction of some kind.

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Japanese Yen Down on Risk Aversion

Dec. 15th 2010

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?!

USD JPY Chart
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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Why is the Japanese Yen Still Rising?

Oct. 29th 2010

Most of today’s headlines regarding the Japanese Yen focus on one thing: Central Bank intervention. Basically, reporters have become focused on the likelihood of additional intervention in the currency markets by the Bank of Japan. However, this obsession has caused them to overlook the larger issue: Why is the Yen still rising?

JPY Versus USD Chart 1970 - 2010

I was prompted to ask this question after coming across the above chart, which tracks the historical performance of the Japanese Yen against the US Dollar. You can see that since 1970, the Yen has risen by a whopping 350% against the Dollar. It has doubled in value since 1990 and risen 14% since the start of the year, en route to a 15-year high. Over the same period (actually since 1980; I couldn’t find data from the 1970), Japan’s economy has expanded by an average annualized growth rate of 2.2%. Over the last 10 years, the average is a paltry .9%. The contradiction between fundamentals and reality could not be more stark!

In addition, investor risk appetite has been reinvigorated. During most of the last decade, carry trading caused the Yen to decline to 120 USD/JPY as investors borrowed Yen in bulk in order to purchase high-yielding assets. The credit crisis spurred a short squeeze (i.e. rapid unwinding of carry trade positions) in early 2007, and caused the Yen to rocket upward. If anything, we would expect the Yen to mirror its performance of a few years ago, as investors take advantage of low Japanese interest rates and rebuild carry trade positions in the Yen.

The recent run-up in emerging market currencies, global equities, commodities, and other risky assets would certainly seem to support a carry trade strategy. For its part, the Bank of Japan is also doing its best to create a healthy environment for carry trading by printing currency, easing monetary policy, and fighting to keep the Yen from rising. And yet, if indeed there are still carry traders (and there certainly are!), the current trend in forex markets suggests that they are very much outnumbered by those betting on the Yen’s rise.

It’s difficult to understand this phenomenon. Those that hold Yen earn a nominal return of near 0%. Long-term interest rates (proxied by 10-year government bonds) are only slightly higher – at 1% – and certainly too low to attract any foreign institutional interest. Besides, it’s well-known that 90% of Japanese government debt is held by domestic savers. Meanwhile, the Japanese stock market has stagnated for more than 2 decades, and the Nikkei average is lower than at any point since 1985 (except for a brief period following the dot-com bust. Japanese real estate is equally unattractive.

As a result, there are only two conceivable reasons for the Yen’s continued upward push. The first is fundamental/structural and is connected to Japan’s trade surplus. In spite of an appreciating currency, the Japanese export sector continues to be the lone bright spot in an economy with otherwise limited sources of growth. Compared to 2009, the trade surplus is up 83%, helped by a rise of 50% in September. It is on pace to top $100 Billion for the year. In this regard, foreigners that buy Japanese Yen do so because they must- for purposes of trade.

Japan inflation rate chart 1970 - 2010

The second source of demand for Japanese Yen is so-called safe haven flows. While the Japanese Yen is not a high-yielding currency, it is actually an excellent store of value. [This is one of the three primary functions that a currency should fulfill. The other two are medium of exchange and unit of account]. That’s because inflation in Japan is the lowest in the world, often to the point of being nil. Since 1970, the inflation rate has averaged only 3%, compared to 4.5% in the US. Over the last 15 years, inflation has been 0%. In other words, even if they are invested in low-yielding savings accounts, Japanese savers can ensure that 1 Yen today will probably still be worth 1 Yen 5 years from now. Foreign investors can take advantage of the same phenomenon, when they bet that the exchange value of the Yen will be equally stable.

On the one hand, it is somewhat surprising that the Yen has been able to thrive in the current “risk-on” investing climate. On the other hand, there is a parallel thread of risk-aversion that will always exist and gravitate towards safe-haven currencies, such as the Yen. In fact, it can be argued that this contingent of investors is as large as the risk-taking contingent, as evidenced by the inexorable appreciation of gold (if not also by the Yen). Insofar as inflation in Japan remains nil and the Japanese export sector proves it can be competitive regardless of exchange rates, demand for Yen will continue to confound the gloomy forecasts and rebuff the best efforts of the Bank of Japan.

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Japan Plots Next Yen Intervention

Oct. 13th 2010

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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Japan Finally Intervenes in Forex Markets

Sep. 15th 2010

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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Intervention Looms as Yen Closes in on Record High

Aug. 20th 2010

It was only a few weeks ago that I last wrote about the possibility of intervention on behalf of the Japanese Yen, and frankly, not a whole lot has changed since then. On the other hand, the Japanese Yen has continued to appreciate, the Japanese economy has continued to deteriorate, and the Bank of Japan has continued to ratchet up its rhetoric. In short, whereas intervention once loomed as a distant prospect, it has now become a very real possibility

1y Yen Dollar Chart

Last week, the Yen touched touched 84.73 (against the Dollar), the strongest level since July 1995. In the year-to-date, it has appreciated 10%. There are a handful of analysts, including the anointed Mr. Yen, who believe that the Yen will rise past its all-time high of 79.75, recorded in April 1995. At the same time, analysts caution that Yen strength is better interpreted as Dollar weakness, and that its overall performance is much less impressive: ” ‘Against a broader range of currencies, particularly in real terms, the yen is far less strong than it looks against the US$ in isolation.’ ”

As the global economic recovery has faded, so has investor appetite for risk. The Japanese Yen has been a big winner (or loser, depending on your point of view) from this sudden sea change. Investors are dumping risky assets and piling back into low-yielding safe havens, like the Yen and the Franc. Ironically, the US Dollar has also benefited from this trend, but to a lesser extent than the Yen. It’s not entirely clear to me why this should be the case. As one analyst observed, “The zero-yielding currency of a heavily indebted, liquidity- and deflation-trapped economy should hardly be the go-to currency of the world.” At this point, it’s probably self-fulfilling as investors flock to the Yen instinctively any time there is panic in the markets.

Some of the demand may be coming from Central Banks. The People’s Bank of China, for example, “has ramped up its stockpiling of yen this year, snapping up $5.3 billion worth of the currency in June, Japan’s Ministry of Finance reported Monday. China has already bought $20 billion worth of yen financial assets this year, almost five times as much as it did in the previous five years combined.” Given that “a one percentage point shift of China’s reserves into yen equals a month’s worth of Japan’s current account surplus,” it wouldn’t be a stretch to posit a connection between the Yen’s rise and China’s forex reserve “diversification.” Officially, China is trying to diversify its foreign exchange reserves away from the Dollar, but the Yen purchases also serve the ulterior end of making the Japanese export sector less competitive.

In this sense it is succeeding, as the economic fundamentals underlying the Yen could hardly be any worse. “Real gross domestic product rose 0.4% in annualized terms in the April-June period, the slowest pace in three quarters…GDP grew 0.1% compared with the previous quarter.” This was well below analysts’ forecasts, and due primarily to a drop in consumption. Exports increased over the same period, causing the current account surplus to widen, but it wasn’t enough to prevent GDP growth from slowing. Meanwhile, unemployment is at a multi-year high, and deflation is threatening. With such persistent weakness, it’s no wonder that China has officially surpasses Japan as the world’s second largest economy.

China Passes Japan in GDP, 2005-2010

The Yen is a convenient scapegoat for these troubles. The Japanese Finance Minister recently declared: “Excessive and disorderly moves in the currency market would negatively affect the stability of the economy and financial markets. Therefore, I am watching market moves with utmost attention.” It is rumored that the government has convened high level meetings to try to build support for intervention, such that it could apply political pressure on the Bank of Japan and cajole it into intervening. “With regard to problems such as the strong yen or deflation, we want to cooperate with the Bank of Japan more closely than ever before.”

In the end, domestic politics are a paltry concern compared to the backlash that Japan would receive from the international community if it were to intervene: “Any U.S.-endorsed intervention would be interpreted in Beijing as hypocrisy. How can the U.S. criticize China for intervening in support of a weaker currency, Chinese officials would ask, while it does so itself in support of a weaker yen?” In other words, there is no way that any country would support the Bank of Japan because such would make it less likely that China would allow the Yuan to further appreciate.

For this reason, many analysts still feel that the possibility of intervention is low. According to Morgan Stanley, however, there is now a 51% chance of intervention, based on its forex models. From where I’m sitting, it’s basically a numbers game. As the Yen rises, so does the possibility of intervention. The only question is how high it will need to appreciate before a 51% probability becomes a 100% certainty.

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Japanese Yen: Intervention is Imminent?

Aug. 1st 2010

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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Japanese Yen and the Irony of Debt

Jul. 13th 2010

Since my last update in June, the Japanese Yen has continued to creep up. It has risen a solid 5% in the year-to-date against the Dollar, 12% against the Pound, and an earth-shattering 20% against the Euro. It is closing in on a 15-year high of 85 Yen/Dollar, and beyond that, the all-time high of 79. According to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, “Long positions in the yen stand at $5.4bn. This is the highest level since December 2009 and represents the biggest bet against the dollar versus any currency in the market.”

usd-jpy 1 year chart
As to what’s propelling the Yen higher, there is very little mystery. Two words: Safe Haven. “The yen’s attractions lie in its status as a haven from the turmoil that has engulfed financial markets as, first, the eurozone debt crisis unfolded and, then, fears about a double-dip recession have intensified.” To be sure, there are a handful of currencies that are arguably more secure and less risky than the Yen. The problem is that with the exception of the Dollar, none of them can compete with the Yen on the basis of liquidity. In addition, thanks to non-existent inflation in Japan and low interest rates in other countries, there is very little opportunity cost in simply holding Yen and simply taking a wait-and-see approach.

According to some analysts, interest rate differentials will probably remain narrow for the foreseeable future: “Global bond yields will fall, reducing the incentive of yen-based investors to place funds abroad.” In fact, thanks to low interest rate differentials, the Yen is not even the target funding currency for carry traders. Suffice it to say that investors are not bothered by the fact that Japanese monetary policy is extraordinarily accommodative and that Japanese long-term interest rates are the lowest in the world. For those who are concerned about rising interest rate differentials, consider that this probably won’t become a factor until the medium-term.

On the fundamental front, there are a couple of risks for the Yen. First of all, there is the stalled Japanese economic recovery and the possibility that the strong Yen could further erode the competitiveness of Japan’s export sector, the mainstay of its economy. Yen bulls respond to this by noting both that Japan’s economic recovery has already stalled for 25 years and that should the Yen’s rise actually crimp economic growth, the Central Bank would probably intervene. By all accounts, “The government will continue to keep a close eye on the yen.”

A greater concern, perhaps, is Japan’s massive debt. Near $10 Trillion, public debt is already 180% of GDP, and is projected to grow to 200% over the next few years. Total public and private debt, meanwhile, is by far the highest in the world, at 380% of GDP. The Japanese government is planning to implement “austerity measures,” but political stalemate and election pressures will make this difficult to achieve.  All three of the rating agencies have issued stern warnings, and downgrades could soon follow. Here, Yen bulls retort that as unsustainable as this debt might appear, the majority (90%) of it is financed domestically, through the massive pool of savings. The remaining 10% is eagerly soaked up by foreign investors, who view the debt as a more attractive alternative to cash and stocks. [This is the great irony that I alluded to in the title of this post – that more debt is viewed positively as “liquidity” and does nothing to hurt the Yen].

Japan Public Debt 1980 - 2010

Speaking of which, the Japanese stock market has risen by only 5% this year, and some analysts are predicting that a long bull market is inevitable. Adding to the fervor, Central Banks have begun to build their positions in the Yen, for the first time in 10 years. It seems everyone is excited about the Yen, even economists: “Within the developed economy space, Japan looks relatively good as an economy that’s likely to be growing faster than Europe or America, and it’s generally considered to have low risk of capital flight.” In other words, the consensus is that there is a very low chance of a “Greek-like debt crisis.”

At this point, the Yen can only be toppled by Central Banks: either foreign Central Banks will hike interest rates and make the Yen unattractive in contrast, or the Bank of Japan will intervene directly to prevent it from rising further.

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Japanese Yen: 90 or 95?

Jun. 3rd 2010

After a healthy appreciation against the Dollar in 2009, the Yen has backed off slightly in 2010, hovering around the level of 90 USD/JPY. Still, every time the Yen falls, traders quickly push it back up to 90. One has to wonder: Will the Yen ever fall?

JPY USD 1 year chart

Analysts attribute the Yen’s resilience to a series of aberrant developments, rather than to some kind of cohesive trend. Above all, there is the sovereign debt crisis in Europe, which has directed a steady stream of risk-averse capital to Japan. Under the existing paradigm, the US, Japan, Switzerland, a handful of other economies are still thought of as financial safe havens, a notion which serves to explain the Yen’s surge to a 10-year high against the Euro.

This is not exclusively a one-way trend. On the contrary, there is a constant ebb and flow in risk-tolerance as investors weigh the seriousness of the EU debt debacle and other crises. In fact, some believe that the recent uptick in risk aversion is already in decline: “Once investors shift their attention back to the fundamentals, which are still signaling solid improvement, there is no strong reason to buy the yen. Underlying demand for higher-yielding assets outside Japan remains strong.”

Outside of this, there is also some debate as to what constitutes a safe-haven currency, and whether the Yen qualifies. On the one hand, Japanese interest rates are extremely low and monetary policy remains accommodative. It’s capital markets are deep (though not exactly buoyant), and for investors that value capital preservation, Japan would seem like a reasonable choice. On the other hand, this mentality is facing a backlash as a result of prolonged political uncertainty. Since unseating the Liberal Democratic Party in 2009 – an historic achievement – the Democratic Party has been in a dither and implemented no new, meaningful policies. The finance minister was replaced a few months ago, and to top it off, the Prime Minister himself is set to resign.

It is both the uncertainty – the perennial enemy of the carry trade – and the potential replacement which worries investors and currency traders. The current front-runner, Finance Minister Naoto Kan, has not made a secret of his desire for a weak Yen: “Markets in principle should determine foreign exchange rates, but I think we must closely watch [markets] and ensure that there won’t be any excessive yen rises.” As Prime Minister, he would probably be more aggressive than his predecessor in intervening in currency markets, if need be.

Perhaps with Mr. Kan’s support, the Central Bank of Japan recently announced that it would inject $20 Billion into capital markets as part of of an effort to “calm” the financial markets. The Central Bank is apparently committed to “combating deflation,” which in some circles is code for currency devaluation.

In short, the only real question – posed in the title of this post – is the exchange rate that the Japanese leadership is targeting. Currency valuation is always more art than science, so it’s unclear not only the rate that in reality is fair, but also the rate that Japan perceives as fair. My feeling is that it’s north of 95 Yen/Dollar. It seems that anything between 90 and 95 is acceptable, while a drop below 90 is cause for intervention. For now, that intervention has been entirely vocal; if the government’s approval ratings remain in the basement, however, it could turn into actual intervention.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2010/06/02/bloomberg1376-L3FFDK1A1I4H-1.DTL
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Failed Euro Bailout Would Buoy Yen

May. 19th 2010

Given that only a week has passed since the bailout of Greece was formally unveiled, it’s still too early to determine whether the plan will be success. Regardless of how it ultimately plays out, though, the bailout (not too mention the concomitant crisis) is shaping up to be THE big market mover of 2009. As investors reposition their chips, some early front-runners are emerging. It might surprise you that one such leader is the Japanese Yen.

On the surface, the Japanese Yen would seem to be an excellent candidate for shorting, especially in the context of the the Greek fiscal crisis. Its fiscal and economic fundamentals are abysmal, and by most measures, it’s debt position is among the least sustainable in the world, behind even Spain, Portugal, and the US. At the same time, the Yen has risen by an unbelievable 8% against the Euro in the last week alone, and many analysts are predicting it will emerge as one of the winners of this episode.

Euro Yen
Why? First of all, with confidence in the Euro flagging, the Yen (and the Dollar) gain luster as the only viable reserve currencies. Regardless of what you think about Japan’s fiscal fundamentals, the longevity at the Yen means that it is inherently safer than the Euro, which may not even exist (in its current form, at least) in a few years time. Second, the current consensus is that the Euro bailout will fail, and as a result, risk tolerance is running low at the moment. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that traders are unwinding their carry trades and that the Yen – “The low-yielding currency of a deflation-prone economy of high savers…entrenched as the world’s funding currency” – has rallied.

Analysts have been quick to point out that the rest of Asia (among other regions) are on the other side of this trend. The concern is that the bailout won’t be enough to prevent a repeat credit crunch and that confidence in investments/currencies that are perceived as risky will remain low.

China could be hit especially hard. Since the Chinese Yuan is pegged to the Dollar (and even it wasn’t), it has risen by a whopping 15% against the EUro over the last six months, severely crimping exports to the EU. In addition, “Chinese exporters rely very heavily on bank letters of credit to finance their shipments…When banks have trouble borrowing money themselves — as has been happening as a result of worries about European banks’ possible losses from the region’s sovereign debt crisis — they tend to cut sharply the issuance of letters of credit for trade finance.” It’s no wonder that the Chinese stock market has tanked 21% so far in 2010, and that the Central Bank continues to delay revaluing the RMB.

Chinese stocks versus S&P
Of course, if the plan turns out to be a success, than the opposite will probably obtain. “In this case…the currency of any emerging market or advanced economy exposed to the Asian region’s impressive, China-led economic growth,” will probably rally. “It could be the South Korean won, the Australian dollar, or the currencies of commodity-producing countries like Brazil.” The Japanese Yen, meanwhile, will probably be hit with a dose of reality, followed by a double dose of the carry trade.

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Japanese Yen: Will We See Intervention?

Apr. 3rd 2010

The Japanese yen has fallen 5% against the Dollar over the last month, and 10% since touching a record high in November. Since this certainly isn’t explainable in the context of the EU debt crisis, what’s going on?!

yen dollar
The primary factor behind the Yen’s decline appears to be seasonal, given the “end of the Japanese fiscal year on March 31, a time when Japanese corporations stop their annual repatriation of foreign profits by converting them into yen, which had kept demand for the currency high.” Analysts add that “A new fiscal year also is a chance for Japanese investors to reset strategies for sending capital abroad and for Japanese companies to set hedging bets for the coming year.” In short, this trend is short-term, and will likely abate in the coming weeks.

Beyond this, it’s difficult to explain the Yen’s decline in terms of financial and economic factors. Japans economy is still lackluster, though its stock market is performing well. I have blogged recently about Japan’s budget deficits and soaring national debt, but given that this debt is financed domestically, fluctuations in the risk of Japanese sovereign default have very little impact on the exchange rate. It’s possible that an increase in risk appetite and consequent revival in the carry trade is behind the Yen’s weakness, but given that US interest rates remain just as low, it makes little sense that the Yen should be falling so precipitously against the Dollar.

Rather, any full explanation must involve the the government of Japan, which appears to have grown increasingly uncomfortable with the persistent strength in the Japanese Yen. Previously, the government (through the Finance Minister) had vehemently denounced the possibility of, intervention on behalf of the Yen and that exchange rates should be determined by market forces, etc. After backtracking, that Minister was replaced (ostensibly for health reasons), and leaders are no longer mincing their words. Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama recently declared, “the yen’s strength is out of step with the country’s fragile economic recovery, urging the government to take ‘firm steps’ to counter the growth-limiting effects of a strong currency.”

Even though the Japanese economy grew by a healthy 3.8% in the fourth quarter of 2009, there remain concerns of contraction and deflation. Many experts agree that the Yen is overvalued, which means that exports are less than what they could be. Analysts love to point out that Japan’s economy is so sensitive to changes in exchange rates, that a fall of one “unit” (100 pips) in the Japanese Yen would be enough to cause some companies to swing from profit to loss. Simply, there is too much at stake for the Japanese economy (and the incumbent Japanese government) to simply let the Yen be.

As a result, many analysts believe that intervention is now inevitable, unless the Yen continues to rise. According to Morgan Stanley, “The probability Japan will sell the yen has climbed to 47 percent, the highest since 2004…based on a company model that uses indicators such as market positioning and changes in momentum.” Other analysts believe that the markets will instead preemptively push down the Yen, which would achieve the same result as intervention: “Brown Brothers Harriman analyst Marc Chandler figures if the dollar breaks above 94 yen, because of the way investors place currency bets, the greenback could more easily extend its run as high as 96 or 98 yen.”

For now, the Central Bank of Japan will attempt to use monetary policy to coax down the Yen, perhaps through a combination of liquidity programs and money-printing, but there are a handful of important meeting coming up, during which time it could conceivably decide to join the ranks of a handful of other Central Banks which have already moved to depress their currencies. Let the Beggar Thy Neighbor Currency Devaluation begin.

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Yen Carry Trade is Back!

Mar. 12th 2010

I can’t remember how long it’s been since I was hyping the Yen carry trade (though a browsing of the ForexBlog archives indicates 2 years). Upon the outset of the credit crisis, forex markets went haywire, and one of the main “beneficiaries” was the Yen, which soared as carry trades were unwound. Now, however, a similar set of circumstances that made the Yen carry trade attractive from 2006-2008 have re-appeared, and it looks like the trade could be on the verge of making a big comeback.

2y

Practitioners of the carry trade understand that it has a few pre-conditions. The first is low interest rates. In this case, the benchmark Japanese interest rate is only .1%. While that would have meant something a few years ago, however, it no longer counts for much, since benchmark rates in other industrialized countries are just as low. Where Japan has the edge is in market interest rates. Long-term rates have historically been well below the global average, and short-term rates are finally following suit after a 3-year hiatus. In fact, for the first time since August, the 3-month Japanese LIBOR rate – a lending benchmark – fell below its US counterpart: “On Thursday, the yen Libor JPY3MFSR= was fixed at 0.25063 percent — its lowest level since May 2006 — and the dollar USD3MFSR= rate at 0.25219 percent.” In short, the Japanese Yen is once again the cheapest currency in the world to borrow.

In addition, interest rates in Japan will probably remain low for the immediate future, as the Bank of Japan is actually looking to make its monetary policy even more accommodative (I didn’t think this was possible with a benchmark rate of only .1%!), in order to further stimulate the economy and alleviate the risk of deflation. This contrasts with Central Banks in other countries, which are already contemplating interest rate hikes.

The second condition is low volatility. ” ‘Realized trading vols has not been so low for many years.’ For example, three-month implied vols in the euro have slipped from a 25-plus high at the peak of the subprime crisis to levels around 10.68 currently…’As volatility goes down,’ the FX market tends to move toward a ‘classic carry trade environment.’ ” Low volatility is important because it enables investors to make low-risk bets on interest rate differentials without worrying too much about currency fluctuation. However, it doesn’t hurt that aversion to risk is also trending lower, such that investors can borrow in Yen to make higher-risk bets. According to the Bank of International Settlements, “The carry-to-risk ratios, a measure of the appeal of carry trades, have ‘been steadily rising over the past 14 years, consistent with an increasing attractiveness of the yen-funded carry trades for Australia and New Zealand.’ ”

_vixThe pickup in risk aversion – as a result of the Greek debt crisis – may have delayed the return of the Yen carry trade. In January, volatility rose slightly and the Yen rallied as the safe-haven mentality set in. Personally, I find this somewhat ironic, since Japan’s debt problems are even more pronounced, and unlike Greece, it can’t count on a bailout from Greece if things really get rough. Still, the markets work in strange ways, and the fact that the Yen has benefited from the crisis is probably due to the fact that traders can’t short all currencies simultaneously.

The third condition is really an outgrowth of the first two: belief that the funding currency will remain stable, or even decline. In this regard, the Yen is still hovering near an all-time high against the US Dollar, and given the confluence of bearish economic and political factors, it would seem to ne headed downward irrespective of the carry trade. For those looking for specific reasons to short the Yen, there are plenty from which to choose: low economic growth, dismal performance in finance markets, high public debt, dwindling savings and an upcoming retirement boom. As one analyst argued, “Tokyo is due to announce its medium-term fiscal plans in June. ‘Either this will mark the start of a prolonged period of fiscal restraint, weakening the economy again and requiring further monetary loosening, or the plans will lack credibility, in which case Japan’s financial markets would be hit hard. In either scenario, the yen looks vulnerable.’ ”

I don’t mean to get excited, but it’s hard to state a better case in favor of an imminent return of the Yen carry trade.

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Making Sense of the Yen: Forex Intervention, Debt and Deflation

Jan. 13th 2010

Last week, Hirohisa Fujii resigned as finance minister of Japan. Since Fujii was an outspoken commentator on the Japanese Yen, the move sent a jolt through forex markets. Those who were expecting that his replacement, Deputy Prime Minister Naoto Kan, would be be more consistent than his predecessor were quickly disappointed, as Mr. Kan managed to contradict himself repeatedly within days of assuming his new post.

On January 6, he said it would be “nice” to see the Yen weaken, going so far as to designate 95 Yen/Dollar as the level he had in mind. One day later, he said that the markets should in fact determine the Yen: “If currency levels deviate sharply from the estimates, that could have various effects on the economy.” After he was rebuked by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who noted that the government should not talk to reporters about forex, he went on tell US Treasury Secretary that forex levels should be stable. In short, Japan’s official governmental position on the Yen still remains muddled, and it’s no less clear whether it will – or even should – intervene.

Japanese yen
Fortunately, they may not have to. Not only because the Yen still remains more than 5% off of the record highs of November, but also because economic and financial forces are coalescing that could send the Yen downward. Despite a recovery in exports, the Japanese economy remains beleaguered, having most recently contracted to the lowest level since 1991, as part of a “tumble [that] is unprecedented among the biggest economies.” Now that we are into 2010, it can be said officially that Japan has now suffered from the “second lost decade in a row.”

When economic growth collapsed in 1990, Japanese consumers became famously frugal, and the domestic market still hasn’t recovered. Neither has the stock market, for that matter: “The Nikkei is 44.3% below where it stood at the end of 1999. It is 72.9% below its peak near the end of 1989.” The performance of the bond market, meanwhile, has been a mirror image, rallying 78% since 1990.

Japan Nikkei stock market and bond market 1989 - 2009

The resulting decline in real interest rates has combined with economic stagnation to produce a perennial state of deflation. In fact, prices are once again falling, this time by an annualized pace of 2%.

Deflation in Japan 2009
As many economists have been quick to diagnose, the problem lies in a tremendous (perhaps the world’s largest) imbalance between savings and investment, as “Japan still has ¥1,500 trillion ($16.3 trillion) of savings.” It’s not clear how long this can last, however, as Japanese demographic changes tax the nation’s pool of savings. “More than a fifth of Japanese are over 65…The nation’s population began shrinking in 2006 from 127.8 million, and will drop by 3.2 percent in the coming decade.”

This brings me to the final component of Japan’s perfect economic storm: debt. Japan’s gross national debt is projected by the IMF to touch 225% of GDP this year, and 250% as early as 2014. As a result of the aging population, the pool of cash available for lending to the government is shrinking at the same rate as the tax base, which is exerting fiscal pressure on the government from both sides. According to one commentator, “Japan’s fiscal conditions are close to a melting point.” Another frets: “I doubt there is any yield that international capital markets can find acceptable that will not bankrupt the Japanese state.”

US and Japan budget deficit 2002 - 2009
What is the government doing about all of this? Frankly, not too much. It is spending money like crazy – exacerbating its fiscal state and pushing it closer to insolvency – in a (vain) attempt to prime the economic pump and avoid deflation from further entrenching. The Central Bank, meanwhile, just announced a new round of quantitative easing, also aimed at fighting deflation. At only 2% of GDP, however, the measures are “pretty tame” and unlikely to accomplish much. Considering that its monetary base has only expanded by 5% this year (compared to 71% in the US), it still has plenty of scope to operate. At the present time, however, it is still reluctant to do so.

Ironically, the aging population phenomenon could end up restoring Japan’s economy to equilibrium. The worse Japan’s fiscal problems become, the sooner it will be forced to simply print money, so as to deflate its debt and avoid default. This will stimulate the economy and put upward pressure on prices (solving two problems), and exert strong downward pressure on the Yen. The way I see it, that’s four birds with one stone!

As for the Yen, then, I would expect it to hover over the near-term, since price stability and a strong credit rating don’t signal immediate catastrophe. No, Japan’s economic problems are more long-term, which means it could be a while before they more clearly manifst themselves.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Central Banks, Japanese Yen, News | 1 Comment »

Japan’s Fujii Still Confused about Intervention

Dec. 1st 2009

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.”

Yen

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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Japan Flip-Flops on Forex Intervention

Oct. 16th 2009

In my report on last month’s Japanese election, I noted that the newly-appointed Japanese finance minister, Hirohisa Fujii, had spoken out against forex intervention. With that, it seemed the matter was closed.

But not so fast! Over the following few weeks, Fujii (as well other members of the new administration) moved to clarify his position, backtracking, sidestepping, contradicting, but never going forward. The following is a summary of selected remarks, beginning with the original statement against intervention and ending in what seems like a promise to intervene:

September 15: “I basically believe that, in principle, it’s not right for the government to intervene in the free-market economy using its money, either in stock or foreign-exchange markets.”
September 27: [The Yen’s rise is] “not abnormal…in terms of trends.”
September 28: “That’s not to say I approve of the yen’s rise.”
September 28: “I don’t think it is proper for the government to intervene in the markets arbitrarily.”
September 29: “If the currency market moves abnormally, we may take necessary steps in the national interest.”
October 3: “As I have said in Tokyo, we will take appropriate steps if one-sided movements become excessive.”
October 5
: “If currencies show some excessive moves in a biased direction, we will take action.”

Confused? I know I am. Is it possible to glean any semblance of meaning from these remarks? Summarized one columnist, “Hirohisa Fujii has gone through several cycles of remarks that first appeared to favor a strong yen and then seemed to backpedal after markets took him at his word and sent the Japanese currency soaring.”

I think this encapsulates the regret that Minister Fujii must have felt, after his original comments were taken a little too seriously. In hindsight, it appears that Fujii attempted to convey the new administration’s stance on forex, in a nutshell, and certainly didn’t expect that investors would run wild and send the Yen up another 4%, bringing the year-to-date appreciation against the Dollar to 15%. In the words of the same columnist cited above, “Japan’s finance minister has been rudely reminded of the cardinal rule when speaking to markets — less is more.”

So where does Fujii actually stand? I would personally hazard to guess that his original explication is still the most accurate portrayal of how he will tend to the Yen while in office. The former Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) administration intervened several times while in office (once under the direction of Fujii himself!) and most recently in 1994. Despite spending trillions of Yen, the campaign only marginally stemmed the rise of the Yen.
bank-of-japan-forex-intervention
Meanwhile, the Japanese economy has been mired in what could be termed the “world’s longest recession, dating back to the 1980’s. It’s clear that the cheap-Yen policy, designed to promote exports, hasn’t benefited the Japanese economy. The new administration, hence, has indicated a shift in strategy, away from export dependence and towards domestic consumption.

Ironically, the nascent Japanese economic turnaround is once again being driven by exports. Fujii is no doubt cognizant of this, and doesn’t want to jeopardize the recovery for the sake of ideology. For example, Toyota Corporation has indicated that a 1% appreciation in the Yen against the Dollar costs the company $400 million in operating income. In addition, while a strong Yen increases the purchasing power of Japanese consumers, an overly strong Yen can lead to deflation, as consumers forestall spending in anticipation of lower prices down the road.

In other words, Fujii is certainly not a proponent of Japan’s recent runup, but his stance is more nuanced than initially understood. “Fujii is basically saying currencies should reflect economic fundamentals and that it is wrong to manipulate their moves to lower the yen for the sake of exporters,” offered one strategist. This, the markets finally seem to understand, and the Yen has actually reversed course over the last week. After all, “A yen in the 80s is excessive,” given the context of record low interest rates and a economy that is still contracting.

In the near-term, then, it doesn’t even make sense to talk about intervention. It seems the markets were getting ahead of themselves in this regard. It doesn’t make sense to price out the possibility of intervention when interevention shouldn’t be a factor in the first place. If on the other hand, the Yen continues to appreciate, then Fujii may have consider how fixed his principles really are.

3m

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Japanese Elections and the Yen

Sep. 14th 2009

In what could be be called an “earth-shattering” election, Japan’s incumbent Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was finally unseated, after a 50-year stretch in power (excluding an 11-month “hiatus” in 1993). Given both the historic nature of the defeat and the margin of victory, it’s surprising that the election took place with so little fanfare. This is perhaps because the defeat was grounded more in opposition to the LDP than in support for the victorious Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), of which little is surprisingly known. For that reason, it’s extremely difficult to assess/predict the implications of the election, and I should preface this post by noting how speculative its conclusions are. Still, a few meaningful observations can be made.

First, the DPJ appears to be somewhat liberal when it comes to economic policy. “Yukio Hatoyama, who is poised to be named prime minister, has railed against ‘unrestrained market fundamentalism and financial capitalism.’ ” It’s not clear exactly what was meant by this pronouncement, although it’s certainly connected with the LDP’s pledge to increase spending on social programs: “It says it will improve health care, expand payments for the unemployed and provide a minimum monthly pension…and remove the tuition fees for public high schools of around ¥120,000 a year.”

japan gdp

It also aims to spearhead a change in the structure in Japan’s economy, away from big government projects and export-dependent industries, in favor of consumers and small businesses. Through a combination of tax cuts, transfer payments, and certain spending initiatives, it is intended that consumers will feel a greater sense of financial security, and open up their wallets. “If they succeed, firms that cater to domestic consumers, from clothing retailers to restaurants, are expected to prosper.” Given that the unemployment rate just touched a record low and that deflation has now set in, it certainly has its work cut out for it in this regard.

Second, a crisis is looming in Japan’s public debt, and it’s not clear if/how the DPJ can solve it. The spending measures approved by the LDP while its leaders were still in power are projected to bring Japan’s national debt to 200% of GDP, by far the highest in the industrialized world. Some analysts have ascribed a fiscal hawkishness to the DPJ, and believe that despite its campaign promises, it will actually move to rein in spending.

Japan national debt to GDP ratio
Other analysts are skeptical, and have argued that unless (consumption) taxes are raised, Japan will soon face a crisis of epic proportions. “We have a government coming in that’s committed to spend even more than the previous government at a time when increased borrowing to spend is just not a plausible option…A catastrophic breakdown of Japan’s public-sector finances will be the biggest story ever to hit the world economy in our times, eclipsing the current financial crisis,” said one economist. Given that the the DPJ has promised not to touch the consumption tax rate for at least four years, such a crisis could come sooner rather than later.

Third, DPJ leadership has pledged not to intervene on behalf of the Japanese Yen, as part of its program to re-structure the economy away from exports. This marks a huge shift from the previous LDP administration, whose policies and rhetoric were consistently geared towards helping exporters and holding down the Yen. “I basically believe that, in principle, it’s not right for the government to intervene in the free-market economy using its money, either in stock or foreign-exchange markets,” declared Hirohisa Fujii, Japan’s soon-to-be-appointed finance minster, who has voiced support for a strong Yen policy on the grounds that it will boost Japanese purchasing power. This contradicts his exchange rate policy during his first stint as finance minister, during which he managed repeated interventions on behalf of the Yen. Still, it should be noted that during his tenure, the Japanese Yen rose against the Dollar.

What do the markets think? The Japanese Yen rose on the news of the DPJ victory, which suggests that investors are inclined to give the new administration the benefit of the doubt when it comes to its pledge not to intervene in forex markets. At the same time, Japanese equities sank, consistent with expectations that the DPJ will be less supportive of big business then its predecessors. In the end, nothing is written in stone, and if the Japanese economy fails to revive, don’t be surprised if the DPJ does an about-face and decides that maybe a weak Yen isn’t so bad after all.

yen

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Japanese Yen, News, Politics & Policy | 4 Comments »

The Force is With the Yen

Aug. 17th 2009

Just when it looked like the carry trade was back for good and all signs pointed to a Yen depreciation, out of nowhere came a series of surprise developments, propping the Yen back up. Spanning finance, economics, and politics – a Forex Trifecta – these developments moved swiftly through the markets, creating optimism for the Yen where before there was only pessimism. Of course, it’s possible that this bump will prove temporary, and a reversal could transpire just as quickly.

yen-dollar

The biggest news, by a large margin, was a report that the Japanese economy had returned to growth. Similar in scale and in tenor to stories coming out of other countries, the data showed that Japan grew at an annualized rate of 3.6% in the second quarter of 2009, a sharp reversal from the 11.7% contraction in the previous quarter (which was itself revised upward from -14%).

Japan GDP 2008-2009

The sudden sea change was brought about by a combination of government spending and export growth. “New tax breaks and incentives to help sales of energy-efficient cars and household appliances, coupled with lower gas prices and a rebound in share prices, spurred consumer spending. Prime Minister Taro Aso has pledged 25 trillion yen (about $263 billion) in stimulus money, including a cash handout plan and more public spending on programs like quake-proofing the country’s public schools, to revive the economy.” Meanwhile exports grew by a healthy 6.3% from the previous quarter, while imports fell, causing the trade surplus to widen.

The announcement of economic recovery was accompanied by a noteworthy reversal in capital flows, such that Japan’s capital account swung into surprise weekly surplus: “Foreign investors bought 292.9 billion yen ($3.1 billion) more Japanese stocks than they sold during the week ended Aug. 8 and domestic investors were net buyers of 125 billion yen in overseas bonds and notes.” Meanwhile, speculation is mounting that Japanese investors will move to repatriate some of the coupon and redemption payments they receive on their US Treasury investments.

While seemingly unrelated to the economic turnaround (it’s important not to read too much into weekly data), this could be a sign that Japanese investors are growing more optimistic about domestic economic prospects and are moving to invest more at home. It’s worth noting that such a shift could actually be necessary if the recovery is to be sustained, in order to increase the role of (capital) investment, relative to exports and government spending. Ironically, it could instead be a sign of excessive pessimism, if Japanese believe that prospects for US/global growth have been overestimated, in which case risk appetite and the carry trade would be due for a combined correction.

Domestic consumption could also play an increasing role in Japan’s economy going forward, as a result of imminent political changes. “To stimulate consumption at home, the Democrats have pledged to put more money in the hands of consumers by providing child allowances, eliminating highway tolls and making fuel cheaper. That marks a shift away from the long-ruling LDP’s emphasis on steps to help companies.”

Along similar lines, the Democratic Party (which has a wide lead over the incumbent Liberal Democratic Party), has also conveyed its opposition to currency intervention, since such tactics inherently prioritize export growth over domestic consumption. “Japan’s export-led growth is reaching its limits and Tokyo should not intervene in markets to weaken the yen as long as currency moves match fundamentals, the No.2 executive in the main opposition party said on Monday.” Could the carry trade be in trouble?

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Yen Carry Trade is Back, but for How Long?

Aug. 5th 2009

Mrs Watanabe, the market’s metaphor for Japan’s housewife yen speculators, has come back to life.” In other words, the Yen carry trade is back. Precise data remains elusive, as always, but several recent papers/articles have nonetheless succeeded in bringing some clarity to this growing, but murky, type of trading strategy. According to one source, “Monthly capital and financial account outflow rose to a nine-year high of ¥3.75 trillion in March, up from ¥1.93tn in February, according to Japan’s Ministry of Finance. Similarly, Japan’s Investment Trusts Association reported last week that Japanese investment trust holdings of foreign assets surged by ¥1.77tn ($15bn) in April to ¥32.3tn and are now up ¥4.57tn year-to-date. This is the biggest monthly increase since the monthly data began in 1989.”

euro-yen

If it’s not already clear, allow me to spell it out. Japanese investors are collectively shorting their own currency, based on the expectation that it will neither appreciate suddenly nor fluctuate wildly so that they can earn profits from investing in higher-yielding alternatives. Research has showed (backed by common sense) that volatility is the main enemy of the carry trade. “When the carry-to-volatility ratio (i.e.,the ratio of the interest rate differentials to the volatility in the two currencies) increased through summer 2008 — in other words, when investors were able to make returns from the interest rate differentials under the low FX rate risk — they increased their positions to a remarkable degree.” On the flipside, “The reaction of the Japanese retail investors to the increase in financial market volatility (the VIX index measure of US equity market volatility is used as a proxy) was particularly apparent in October 2008 when investor positions were wound back sharply.”

carry-to-volatility-ratio-yen-carry-trade

A pickup in risk appetite over the last few months, however, has brought about a decline in volatility. “Implied volatility on seven major currencies has fallen to 13.8 percent from a peak of 26.6 percent in October…from an average of 15.4 percent over the past year.” As a result, Japanese investors have rushed back into the market. The total number of  forex margin accounts in Japan is estimated to have increased 50% over the last year, with account balances rising by 30%. In 2008, Japanese retail investors already accounted for 20% of daily turnover in the Japanese Spot Forex market. When you consider these growth rates, this figure is probably even higher now.

japanese-retail-investors-daily-turnover1
There is evidence, however, that such investors are shifting their trading strategy. Prior to the credit crisis, the data shows that they “Increased their foreign currency net long positions when the investment currency depreciated and reduced these positions when the investment currency appreciated. This behaviour is consistent with realising returns by selling positions when the investment currency appreciates and adding to positions when the investing currency depreciates.” Now, however, they have taken to copying “professional” speculators, who tend to swing trade short-term changes in momentum.

As for which currencies represent the most popular targets for carry trades, investors typically buy those currencies that are less volatile and higher-yielding. “The favorite bet is for the Australian dollar to strengthen versus the yen. Wagers on the Aussie more than tripled to 64,293 contracts in the five weeks to April 27, while those on the kiwi — named after a flightless bird native to New Zealand and depicted on the one dollar coin — rose to 36,454.” The Euro is in a distant third.

Perhaps in response to this pickup in carry trade activity, the Bank of Japan is finally clamping down. Rather than raise interest rates – which could harm the prospects for economic recovery – it will require Japanese brokerages to lower margin rates by 2010, to 25 x collateral. Still, logic (and legislation) doesn’t rule, when it comes to forex. ” According to  a Federal Reserve Bank paper, “The currencies of countries with low interest rates have tended to depreciate, or to not appreciate sufficiently to offset arbitrage opportunities.” For now at least, it likes like the carry trade is still safe.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Investing & Trading, Japanese Yen, News | 2 Comments »

Japanese Yen: Exports Versus Carry

Jul. 24th 2009

Plot the Japanese Yen against almost any “major” currency over the last few months (or few weeks for that matter) and you get a pretty consistent picture. Moreover, when you graph most Yen currency pairs against the S&P 500 (I like the AUD/JPY), the correlation is uncanny! Sure enough, it was reported recently that “Japan’s currency also fell the most in a week against the euro as futures on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 0.5 percent.”

japanese-yen-is-correlated-with-sp

This suggests that the main driver for the Yen is proximally, the demand for US equities, and ultimately, appetite for risk. “We’re seeing high-yielding currencies still rallying along with stock markets…The market is reverting to business as usual. That’s just spurring risk currencies forward,” explains one analyst. In other words, the carry trade is back, and investors are borrowing in the world’s cheapest currency (Japanese overnight interest rates are only .1%) and investing in higher-yielding alternatives. “There’s strong momentum behind this risk taking. You cannot keep your money in cash for zero returns unless you believe in deflation,” added a trader.

Experts on both sides of the Pacific Ocean are now encouraging their clients to short the Yen. “Japanese financial institutions are encouraging investors to put money into mutual funds focused on assets denominated in currencies such as the Turkish lira, South African rand and Brazilian real…Japanese investors were net buyers of 709.4 billion yen of overseas assets in the week ended July 11…” Goldman Sachs, meanwhile, has declared that the Yen is still overvalued, and “recommended investors use three-month forward contracts to sell the yen.”

There’s certainly some second-guessing taking place, especially with earnings season upon us. “Risk aversion is likely to stay prominent, given earnings announcements by companies including CIT. The bias is for haven currencies such as the yen to be bought,” insisted one analyst. In addition, Central Bank diversification has created some demand for the Yen and the Euro, but this is more of a Dollar-negative story than a Yen-positive story.

There are also signs that the Japanese economy is recovering, thanks to a pickup in exports. The fact that its economy remains so dependent on exports to drive growth certainly exacerbated the impact of the credit crisis. On the other hand, it could also magnify any recovery. “Japan’s merchandise trade surplus widened in June…to 508 billion yen ($5.42 billion) from 104.1 billion yen a year earlier. The nation’s trade performance appears to be improving, as the surplus was bigger than May’s 299.8 billion yen figure.”

japan-export-dependence
Still, prices in Japan are falling (by 1.1% at last count), and there are strong concerns among economic officials that deflation could take hold. Accordingly, carry traders borrowing in Yen can rest easy, knowing that Japan is probably the least likely of any industrialized country to raise interest rates in the near-term.

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Risk Aversion Edges Up

Jul. 9th 2009

Over the last few weeks, the stock market rally has fizzled and commodities prices have cooled off. It’s not clear what triggered this sudden surge in introspection (I would call it reasonableness). Regardless, the markets are now wondering out loud whether the optimism of the second quarter wasn’t a bit naive.

After all, there still isn’t any evidence that global economy has turned a corner. Virtually all of the economic indicators that matter are still trending downwards. In addition, the apparent stabilization in housing prices could prove temporary, as banks move away from loan modifications and back towards foreclosure. Rumors that the Obama administration are considering a second stimulus plan are already circulating

With second quarter corporate earnings season set to kick off next week, investors are once again bracing for the worst: “Given the strong performance of stocks relative to March lows, a reality check from earnings could be detrimental to risk appetite.” Adds another analyst, “It’s renewed risk aversion, triggered by mounting doubts about a near-term economic recovery that’s evident in the sell-off on Wall Street and the subsequent decline in risk assets in general.”

This pickup in risk aversion is also manifesting itself in forex markets, via the upturns in both the US Dollar and Japanese Yen: “The prospect of a slow and bumpy recovery remained the overriding driver of market sentiment and the dollar was soon reasserting itself as the currency of choice – apart from the yen.” Ironically, negative economic data that applies directly to the US is benefiting the Dollar, which goes a long way towards explaining the current market orientation. Currency traders have yet to turn towards comparative growth differentials (despite the predictions of some analysts) and remain firmly focused on risk. Meanwhile, “The yen rally has extended, driven by the liquidation of long-risk asset positions.” In other words, the carry trade has come under pressure as investors move back into low-risk government bonds.

euro-yenThe “uncertainty” narrative will likely continue to drive the markets for the near-term, as neither the optimists nor the pessimists have the data to support their respective positions. In all likelihood, the markets will trend sideways and safe haven currencies will see a slight inflow, until there is confirmation that the economy is firmly on the path to recovery.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Japanese Yen, News, US Dollar | 1 Comment »

Is Risk Aversion Back?

Jun. 23rd 2009
At the end of last week, I posed a question: what will be the next theme to dominate forex markets? Perhaps the answer can be found in Monday’s massive market selloff (“Triple-M Monday” anyone?), the worst day for stocks in over two months. Commodities and currencies- both of which have taken their cues from stocks of late- also trended downwards. 
changing-direction 
While I would be the first to caution against reading too much into one day (especially since the early indications are that some of these losses will be erased today), it’s possible that yesterday marked the breakout that many technical analysts have called for over the last few weeks. Asked one such analyst last week, “Taking a step back to look at the daily price action of the EUR/USD, we can clearly see that the currency pair is consolidating and a sharp breakout is imminent. The big question is, will it be an upside or downside breakout?”
 
What was the catalyst for Monday’s selloff? Perhaps it was my blog post on uncertainty: “The World Bank said Monday that prospects for the global economy remain ‘unusually uncertain,’ and it cut its 2009 growth forecasts for most economies” from 1.7% to 2.9%. But really, the World Bank was only echoing what every investor already knew- that the stock market rally rested on a house of cards, and that in fact the arguments in support of an economic recovery are still quite tenuous. In other words, “Some of the buying since early March was been based on a conclusion by many investors that government intervention had forestalled the threat of a doomsday scenario, such as another Great Depression…expectations were so low that stocks rose merely on news that indicators such as manufacturing activity or the service economy were shrinking less than had been feared. Investors didn’t require signs of actual growth.”
 
From trough to peak, stocks rallied 34%, pushing P/E levels back to normal levels. Now that all of the temporary pricing inefficiencies have been “corrected,” investors are taking a step back and looking to see whether the data supports further buying. Until there is solid proof that the “green shoots” are real, it’s my prediction that markets will trend either sideways or downwards.
 
What does this mean for forex markets? Investors will probably shun riskier currencies in favor of the Dollar and the Yen, which are still perceived as relative safe-havens. “Risk aversion has resurfaced as market participants take profits on riskier exposures. There are “renewed concerns about the extent of the ongoing global recession and the sustainability of the ‘green shoots’ of recovery,” said one analyst.
 
Of course, some would argue that that the emerging markets forex rally was built on a more solid foundation than US stocks. If this is the case, then perhaps the correlation between stocks and currencies will break down in the coming weeks. For now, at least, risk-averse investors will probably start to unwind carry trades and pile back into the mainstays of forex. Those with the highest interest rates will suffer the most. Until the day comes that bad economic news in the US doesn’t paradoxically buoy the Dollar, we can be certain that the current narrative is once again one of risk aversion.
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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Japanese Yen, News, US Dollar | 1 Comment »

Japanese Yen Sinks with US Dollar, but at Slower Pace

Jun. 5th 2009

Speaking of seven-month lows, did anyone notice that while the US Dollar was busy declining against pretty much every other tradable currency that the Japanese Yen was doing the same? The Yen has remained rangebound against the Dollar for the last three months – the period during which the market rally and Dollar decline have taken place – which just by simple mathematics explains why it has also fallen to a seven-month low around the same time.

yen-chart

The same set of factors that caused the Yen and Dollar to move in lockstep prior to the credit crisis seems to have coalesced again in March. Specifically, investor comfort with risk-taking have combined with low rates to make both very attractive candidates for carry trade funding currencies. Both countries’ Central Banks are holding rates close to 0% (for several years now, in the case of Japan) and appear unlikely to hike them anytime soon. Simply put, ” ‘Risk appetite is improving in the market, which has been attracting cash away from safe-haven currencies like the dollar’ and the yen. Investors are ‘searching for higher yields.’ ”

At the same time, both countries have been aggressive in using fiscal and monetary policy to tackle the economic downturn, both of which could be highly inflationary and lead to currency debasement. Then, again, nearly every economy has responded with the same policy measures, which suggests that low interest rates represent the most plausible factor. It could, however, explain why the Yen is rising against the Dollar, and is closing in on the 13-year high recorded earlier this year. In other words, while both currencies are being sold in the short-term to fund carry trades, investors may have determined that the Dollar will remain weaker in the long-term, due to inflation problems.

On a certain level, this is somewhat baffling. Japanese economic indicators make the US economic recession look like an economic boom by comparison. “Preliminary figures showed the world’s second-largest economy shrank at a record 15.2 percent annual pace last quarter,” which would be the worst on record. Meanwhile, Japanese corporations saw so-called recurring profits fall by “69.0 percent from a year earlier to 4.27 trillion yen (44.35 billion dollars) in the three months to March…the sharpest drop since comparable figures became available in 1955 and the seventh straight quarter of declines…Combined sales reported by corporate Japan both at home and abroad caved by a record 20.4 percent.”

In addition, the US has recorded a net capital account surplus with Japan of late, which implies that Japanese are net investors in the US- not the other way around. The government of Japan is equally confused, and is “in the middle of analyzing what is driving the yen higher.” Still, it insists that forex intervention is not currently on the table. If Japan’s economy contracts by another 15% next quarter, however, I wouldn’t be surprised if it did an about-face.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Japanese Yen, News | No Comments »

Yen Continues to Drop Despite Government Stimulus Plan

Apr. 10th 2009

This week, the Yen continued its decline against the Dollar and Euro, dipping well below 100 Yen/Dollar en route to a six-month low. Most analysts attribute this trend to a pickup in risk aversion: “Some kind of optimism is returning to the market and that’s putting pressure on the yen,” explained one analyst succinctly.

An ongoing rally in stocks and commodities is reinforcing investor attitudes that the economic recession is under control, and is stimulating risk-taking. In other words, the same forces that contributed to the unwinding of the carry trade during the beginning of the credit crisis, are now working in reverse and causing investors to flee from the Yen en masse. “As long as stocks can retain their buoyancy… risk appetite and risk-based trades will be in vogue and investors will continue to add to and rebuild yen short positions.”

According to the most recent International Monetary Market report, “Short positions on the currency have been building up for three consecutive weeks, and are now at levels last seen in the late summer of 2008,” which means the Yen’s slide has basically become self-fulfilling. From a technical standpoint, “A move above 101.00 yen was technically significant as it was a 38.2 percent Fibonacci retracement of its decline from a peak in 2007 to its 13-year low in January.” Even domestic Japanese investors have signaled their bearishness by taking advantage of last week’s Yen upswing by making “aggressive purchases of foreign bonds.”

From a fundamental standpoint, the decline in the Yen makes sense, given the abysmal economic situation in Japan. In fact, the “Minutes from the Bank of Japan’s March meeting showed members of the central bank were leaning toward cutting the bank’s economic forecast in April, and that they believed the BOJ would need to continue to provide substantial liquidity to financial markets that they see as still under substantial stress.”

The government is finally responding to the economic crisis, having most recently unveiled a $150 Billion plan, to supplement the $100 Billion initiative announced earlier this year. “If implemented competently, these steps could stabilize the domestic economy and stop the bleeding in labor markets.” At the same time, the intertwined tailspin in confidence and spending suggest that the government’s efforts could be in vain.

While equity investors have reacted positively – pushing the stock market into positive territory for the year- bond and currency traders are understandably concerned. Yields on Japanese bonds are already rising in anticipation of $100 Billion in bonds that the government will have to issue in 2009 alone. Naturally, the burden to purchase these bonds will fall on the Bank of Japan, which will be forced to print money and contribute to the further devaluation of the Yen in the process.

japan-government-debt-issuance

Ultimately, the duration of the Yen’s slide depends on the duration of the global stock market rally. If you believe that the global economy has turned a corner, then the Yen is done. If, on the other hand, you are inclined to side with George Soros, who opined recently that “It’s a bear-market rally because we have not yet turned the economy around,” then there is still cause for Yen bullishness.

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Yen Falls Below 100 as Risk Aversion Fades

Apr. 2nd 2009

This week marked a couple milestones for the Japanese Yen. First, the Yen fell below 100 JPY/USD for the first time in five months. Second, the Central Bank of Japan “celebrated” five years of not having intervened in forex markets. Of course, the relationship between these two events is not difficult to ascertain; as the Yen retreats from the stratospheric highs of 2008, intervention is becoming progressively less necessary (and hence less likely).
yen-declines-against-dollar
Risk aversion, or in this case a decline thereof, has been identified as the likely cause of Yen weakness, although as I alluded in an earlier post, there is still a question of causation, as opposed to correlation. Is it higher equity and commodity prices that are driving risk tolerance, or the other way around?

Regardless of whether the chicken or the egg comes first, higher asset prices have recently been accompanied by modest declines in so-called “safe haven currencies,” namely the Dollar and the Yen. In the case of the Yen, there were previously two different narratives, one that underlies the Yen’s performance solely against the Dollar, and another thread seems to govern its fluctuations against virtually all other currencies.

In recent weeks, however, a combination of forces have come together to drive the Yen down against all currencies. First, of course, is the theme of declining risk aversion: ” ‘The euro was bought for the yen on the back of recent firm stock markets and this supported the dollar relative to the yen,’ ” summarized one analyst. The $1 Trillion economic stimulus plan unveiled today by the G20 will also have the effect of “sapping demand for Japan’s currency as a refuge.”

There are also end-of-quarter factors that have played a role in the Yen’s decline. ” ‘The dollar is being buoyed as Japanese investors try to secure currency on the last day of the fiscal year. Investors’ demand for the yen stemming from repatriation flows, on the other hand, appears to have peaked,’ said a trader at a Japanese bank.”

Last but not least, there is the Japanese macroeconomic picture, which shows a country that is headed towards a deep recession. The latest monthly figures show a 49% year-over-year decline in exports, which is contributing to rising pessimism among Japanese businesses. According to a recent survey by the Bank of Japan, “Confidence among Japan’s large manufacturers dropped to minus 55 in March from minus 24 in December, [which]…would be the lowest since 1975 and the biggest drop since the bank started the survey.” Given that Japanese household spending is also falling, “Japanese companies are caught in a double bind, facing markets at home that are shrinking with the population as well as the global downturn.”

japanese-exports-decline-in-2009

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Economic Indicators, Japanese Yen | 1 Comment »

Japanese Yen Hovers around 100 JPY/USD, Intervention Unlikely

Mar. 18th 2009

In the wake of the Swiss National Bank intervening to hold down the value of the Franc, everyone is wondering whether the Bank of Japan (and perhaps other Central Banks) will follow suit. Asks one market commentator rhetorically: “How long do you think it will be until Japan tries once again to push the yen lower, with its export industries in tatters?” Given that the Japanese economy is forecast to contract for at least the next two quarters, and also that its trade balance recently slipped into deficit, this is an eminently reasonable question.

japan-monthly-trade-balance-since-1986

Even prior to the surprise SNB announcement, it was widely speculated that the Bank of Japan would intervene on behalf of the Yen. After all, the BOJ was the most recent Central Bank to have waded into forex markets; it unsuccessfully spent $350 Billion in 2003-2004 to hold down the Yen. Since the inception of the credit crisis, however, it has passed on several golden opportunities. “It declined to intervene in October when the Group of Seven industrial powers issued a rare inter-meeting statement singling out yen volatility, giving Japanese authorities the green light to stem its surge. Even when the yen hit a 13 1/2-year high of 87.10 per dollar in January and exports demand collapsed, the BOJ held back.”

Since the beginning of 2009, the Yen has fallen 8% against the Dollar, and has fallen to a 3-month low against the Euro. Now, the “pendulum is swinging the other way” as risk aversion eases up and investors turn their attention to macroeconomic fundamentals. “The yen’s safe-haven appeal has, however, lost some of its lustre due to a rapid deterioration in Japan’s economy…and political uncertainty with an unpopular government facing an election that must be held by October.”
yen-falls-against-dollar
Nonetheless, the Yen has not yet slipped below the psychologically important 100 Yen/Dollar barrier. Analysts speculate that this is due to capital repatriation by Japanese investors, for hedging and accounting purposes. In order to minimize forex conversion losses, Japanese retail investors are taking advantage of the relatively weak Yen by shifting funds into domestic value stocks. Japanese companies, meanwhile, are ” ‘dressing up’ their balance sheets ahead of their fiscal year-end, by liquidating foreign holdings and bringing home the profits from overseas subsidiaries, to raise their bottom lines.”

The likelihood of BOJ intervention is paradoxical. If investors fear intervention, they will sell the Yen, and in turn, minimize the need for intervention. On the other hand, if investors remain skeptical of intervention, they may buy the Yen, which could actually impel the BOJ to intervene. But putting game theory aside, most analysts remain convinced that economic and political circumstances point away from intervention as a real possibility.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Japanese Yen, Politics & Policy | 4 Comments »

The Split Yen

Mar. 9th 2009

The Japanese Yen is increasingly resembling a patient with split personality disorder, moving in one direction (down) against the Dollar while behaving quite differently against other currencies.

yen-dollar-euro-comparison-fx-chart3

For most of the duration of the credit crisis, the Yen had mirrored the performance of the Dollar, both of which had performed well as so-called “safe-haven” currencies. For a while, the Yen even outpaced the Dollar, rising to a 13-year+ high. Over the last five weeks, however, the Yen has fallen off against the Greenback, while maintaining its value against other rivals. It’s unclear exactly what’s driving this split, but careful analysis suggests it is a product of changed investor psychology.

To elaborate, the Yen’s precipitous rise was due to financial- as opposed to economic- factors. As investors fled emerging markets en masse and unwound carry trades, it spurred a flood of capital back into Japan. This was not because the Yen was anything special; far from it, in fact. Rather, it was because the alternatives were perceived to be substantially more risky. This began to change in earnest when it was revealed that the Japanese economy shunk by over 12% (on an annualized basis) in the recent quarter. Given that Japan’s economy is famously dependent on exports, it didn’t take long for investors to connect Japan’s sagging GDP with its strong currency.

This prompted speculation that Japan would intervene in forex markets in order to prevent the Yen from rising further. In the end, Japan didn’t spend a dime. Fortunately, it didn’t have to, as investors took the hint, and sent the Yen tumbling against the Dollar. Technically, Japan hasn’t intervened since 2004 (see chart), but the threat of intervention combined with low interest rates ensured that in this case, words spoke just as loud as actions. It should be noted that Japan will use a small portion of its reserves to fund domestic economic initatives, but for now at least, none of it will be used to purchase Dollars in the spot market.
bank-of-japan-forex-intervention2

So why hasn’t the Yen reversed course against other currencies? Its stock market is sagging, and its economy is in equally bad, if not worse-than-average shape. The answer lies in interest rate differentials and investor risk tolerance. The rate gap between the Yen and the highest-yielding currency (New Zealand), has shrunk to less than 3.5%. Excluding Australia, and to a lesser extent the Euro, interest rate differentials are effectively negligible. Accordingly, investors have decided that the gains from an additional couple hundred basis points in yield are not offset by the perceived increase in risk associated with currency volatility. That this theory holds water is evidenced by the fall in the Japanese Yen that immediately registered when the Bank of Australia opted to hold rates steady at its most recent meeting.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Euro, Japanese Yen, US Dollar | 1 Comment »

Fundamentals Catch up with Yen

Mar. 2nd 2009
In hindsight, it is now clear that the Japanese Yen’s dramatic rise in 2008 was mostly due to financial, rather than economic factors. In other words, a decline in risk aversion led to the unwinding of the Yen carry trade and a subsequent inflow of capital into Japan. Unfortunately, the recession and inflated currency have since taken their toll on the Japanese economy, resulting in an annualized 13% contraction in GDP for the latest quarter. The balance of trade has also shifted, to such an extent that Japan actually recorded a trade deficit in the most recent month. Having concluded, for the moment at least, that forex intervention is no longer necessary, the Central Bank has announced plans to deploy some of its $1 Trillion+ forex reserve hoard to help ailing companies. Barron’s reports:
A reversal of the yen, from strength to weakness, will have “major global implications…” Perhaps beleaguered Japanese authorities already have begun reacting to the “carnage” the yen’s rise has wrought.
Read More: An Odd Decouple
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Japanese Yen Braces for Intervention

Feb. 19th 2009

After months of speculation, it appears that forex markets have finally concluded that the Central Bank of Japan is now prepared to bring down the Yen. On the one hand, the Finance Minister of Japan very publicly denied that the overvalued Yen and the consequent need for forex intervention was discussed during either his personal conversation with US Treasury Secretary Geithner or at the most recent G7 conference. At the same time, he pledged the willingness of Japan to fight “excessive swings” in forex and capital markets. Meanwhile, the expensive Japanese Yen has already trickled down to the economy, driving a 12.7% decline in GDP (in annualized terms) for the most recent quarter. The Yen, accordingly, has begun its retreat, already erasing nearly 10% of the gains it racked up against the Dollar over the last year. Reuters reports:

Japan, like the United States, is in recession and can ill afford a rising currency, which puts an extra choke-hold on exporters that are cutting jobs and shuttering factories in the face of a global slump in demand.

Read More:  Japan to act vs FX swings

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US and Japan Should Form “Forex Partnership”

Feb. 12th 2009

While continuing to deny the possibility of direct forex intervention, Japan is nonetheless desperate to halt the rise in the Yen. The primary concern of the US government, meanwhile, is not that the Dollar is becoming too valuable, but rather that it will face great difficulty in funding its economic stimulus plan. Perhaps there exists a golden opportunity to simultaneously alleviate both of these quandaries; Japan should be solicited to buy US government bonds. A large-scale purchase of US Treasury securities by the Central Bank of Japan would be tantamount to intervention, and would probably lead to a decline in the Yen, at least against the Dollar. Of course the US would benefit not only by the direct purchase of its bonds, but also by the positive signal that this would send to other institutional investors. Besides, given that China is in no position to increase its holdings of US Treasury securities, Japan represents the best candidate for partnership. The Washington Post reports:

Achieving such a currency adjustment may seem farfetched, but the yen-dollar exchange rate historically has been heavily influenced by the market's perception of the U.S. and Japanese governments' comfort level for the currency relationship.

Read More: America's New Rescuer: Japan

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Yen, Dollar may Lose Safe Haven Status

Feb. 10th 2009

In accordance with yesterday's post, it appears that this February is set to continue the trend of low volatility observed in previous years. With the US government on the verge of passing a record economic stimulus package, investors are becoming increasingly confident about the prospects of the global economy to avoid recession. On the surface, it would seem that the stimulus should benefit the economy, and by extension the Dollar. However, this ignores the fact that the Dollar is currently being driven by fear- the idea that the US remains a safe haven for investing- rather than by economic fundamentals. The same holds true for the Japanese Yen. Accordingly, regardless of how the stimulus ultimately impacts the economy, it will certainly increase risk tolerance in capital markets, potentially leading investors to shift capital out of the US and Japan into higher-yielding sectors. Bloomberg News reports:

"A lot of money that sat on the sideline is now being put back to work," said [one analyst]. "People are starting to move to make risky bets."

Read More: Yen, Dollar Fall as U.S. Stimulus Prospects Reduce Haven Demand

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Seasonality in Forex

Feb. 9th 2009

Efficient markets theory would suggest that the inherent randomness of commodity prices should be preserved from month to month, such that on average, prices are equally likely to go up as they are to fall. In practice, we know that earnings and tax calenders are such that stocks consistently perform better in some months, than they do in others. Such patterns can also be observed in forex markets.The Dollar, for example, typically rises in January, probably as a result of the US stock market to rise likewise. In February, meanwhile, one analyst has observed a consistent decline in volatility between the Yen and the Dollar. The implication is that with lower volatility will follow a sell-off in the Yen, due to renewed interest in the carry trade. Of course, this may not hold in the current market environment, as both currencies are now being used to fund carry trades and are being punished accordingly when risk tolerance increases.

Read More: What Is Unique About Forex in February?

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Investing & Trading, Japanese Yen, US Dollar | No Comments »

Japan Moves Closer to Intervention

Jan. 27th 2009

Despite backed by negative real interest rates, the Japanese Yen continues to grind upwards, threatening to break through significant psychological and technical barriers. From a monetary standpoint, the Bank of Japan is basically out of options with regard to limiting the currency's upward momentum. Its sole remaining tool is its $1 Trillion in foreign exchange reserves, which it could release directly into currency markets to depress the Yen. It has been four years since Japan last employed such a strategy, and it appears reluctant to dip into the reserves again for fear of offending the G8, which has discouraged such action. The BOJ is also reluctant to build its holdings of US Treasuries (which would be a collateral requirement of holding down the Yen), because bond prices have become inflated. However, loss of face may soon become the least of its concerns, as the economy slides deeper into recession. Unless the notoriously thrifty Japanese consumers can be impelled to action, the Bank may find it has no other choice but to spur the export sector via a cheaper Yen. The Guardian UK reports:

The economic malaise in the United States and Europe is affecting Japan and Tokyo must act to keep the economy afloat, Nakagawa said, a day after the country's central bank forecast that Japan would plunge into its deepest contraction in modern times.

Read More: Japan steps up warning on markets, BOJ gloomy

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Tobin Tax Could Restore Yen

Jan. 6th 2009

While the Yen's 30% rise in 2008 is no mystery (a result of the unwinding of carry trades), its performance nonetheless defies economic fundamentals. Exports have fallen and industrial production has collapsed, such that recession now appears inevitable. Japan is not alone in this regard, as a number of economies have suffered unnecessarily as a result of excessive volatility in currency markets. The solution could be the so-called "Tobin tax," which aims to limit forex speculation by levying a nominal tax on short-term currency trades. The proceeds from such a tax would be used to restore some equilibrium in forex markets by providing Central Banks with funds for direct intervention. While the tax itself has never been implemented, countries have previously taken to cooperating on forex matters for the sake of global macroeconomic stability. Seeking Alpha reports:

Exchange rates have to be within a certain range for all economies to prosper. The major economies have to work together to ensure this. If the Group of Five could work together to depreciate the "Super Dollar" in 1985, so the major nations today can and should work together to stem the surge of the super Yen.

Read More: Japanese Yen: An Excessively Strong Currency Spells Recession

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Interest Revives in Yen Carry Trade

Dec. 31st 2008

On the basis of a 25% appreciation against the Dollar, 2008 marked the strongest year for the Japanese Yen since 1972, as the credit crisis caused a rapid unwinding of carry trades as investors abandoned risky positions. 2009 may not be as auspicious for the Yen, however, as a bevy of factors coalesces to halt its upward progress. First of all, global credit and forex markets have begun to stabilize over the last few months. The seemingly unending US government bailout has restored confidence in riskier sectors, such as the automotive sector. Coupled with a cut in Japanese interest rates, investors are being lured back into the carry trade. In addition, Japanese economic officials are becoming more vocal about the Yen's rise, which is threatening to send the export-dependent economy into another deep recession. It is therefore conceivable that the Central Bank could intervene on behalf of the Yen, despite the pleas of the G8. Bloomberg News reports:

The last time Japan intervened on its own, it sold a record 20.4 trillion yen ($226 billion) in 2003 and 14.8 trillion yen in the first quarter of 2004, when the yen rose as high as 103.42 per dollar.

Read More: Yen Weakens as Carmaker Loans Revive Confidence in Carry Trades

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Japanese Yen | No Comments »

Japan: Intervention Unlikely

Dec. 24th 2008

If ever there was a case for Japanese intervention in forex markets, it is now. The Yen has emerged as the unquestionable victor from the credit crisis, having appreciated against every major currency and notching a 13-year high against the Dollar. Japanese exports have plunged, inducing the country's first monthly trade deficit in almost three decades. Meanwhile, corporate profits are sagging as a result of forex conversion losses, and the unemployment rate could soon set a new record. Notwithstanding comments to the contrary by a high-ranking official, however, the Central bank of Japan is perhaps unlikely to intervene on behalf of the Yen, if only for political reasons. The G7 countries, namely the US, have urged Japan to allow the market to run its course, as it hopes the weaker Yen can help restore some of America's export competitiveness. The Asia Times reports:

Japan will be criticized internationally, especially by the US, the country's strongest ally, if it acts to stem the currency's gain as US automakers are still on the brink of bankruptcy. The stronger yen drives up the price of cars imported to the US.

Read More: Japan to live with yen burden

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Central Banks, Japanese Yen | No Comments »

Softening Risk Aversion Impacts Forex

Dec. 19th 2008

The last two weeks have proved the old adage, "What goes up must come down." In other words, the year-long Dollar rally has begun to fade, as investors once again embrace economic reality. Previously, Dollar strength could be largely attributed to exit trades out of other currencies, rather than any substantive benefit of investing in the US. Now, risk appetite is slowly recovering, having received a boost from the just-completed government bailout of the US automobile industry. Less concerned about risk/volatility, investors have taken to re-assessing economic fundamentals. In the case of the US, unemployment is rising, the twin deficits continue to expand at a breakneck pace, and the interest rate disparity between the ECB and Fed will remain in place for the near-term. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Whether the dollar will continue to weaken is a matter of debate. Currency strategists caution that the dollar often is weaker toward the end of the year, particularly against the euro, as companies and investors adjust bets.

Read More: Less Panic Puts Pressure on Dollar

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Economic Indicators, Japanese Yen, US Dollar | No Comments »

Japan Stays out of Forex

Dec. 4th 2008

Officially, Japan has not intervened in forex markets since 2004, when it spent the equivalent of $300 Billion to hold down the value of the Yen. That impressive streak could soon come to and end, however, as the Yen continues to surge on the unwinding of the carry trade. The performance of the Yen- which recently touched a 13-year high- is particularly impressive since it comes at a time when virtually every other currency has collapsed relative to the US Dollar. Now, analysts have once again taken to pouring over monthly data on Japan’s Central Banking activities, in order to confirm that it is keeping its finger off of the trigger. Given that the Yen’s appreciation has already prompted several high-level meetings among global economic and political leaders, however, it is probably only a matter of time before Japan ends its multi-year abstinence from forex. Reuters reports:

Japanese Finance Minister said earlier this month that the authorities must be ready to deal with big swings in markets as they are undesirable. His comments pushed the yen lower against the dollar as market players were wary of intervention.

Read More: Japan did not intervene in currency market in Nov

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Forex Liquidity and the Credit Crisis

Nov. 6th 2008

Most of the commentary surrounding the dual Dollar-Yen rally that has unfolded over the last couple months has focused around monetary policy and risk aversion. Accordingly, the prevailing theory is that both currencies are being driven upwards because of narrowing interest rate differentials and a collapse in risk tolerance. However, it’s also important to consider the role of technical/financial factors. Specifically, liquidity in forex markets is dissipating rapidly as market participants have found it difficult to secure lines of credit to finance leveraged currency trades. In addition, those with leveraged short positions in the Dollar and Yen have been forced to partially unwind their positions for the same reason. In hindsight, the decline in both the Dollar and the Yen over the last few years now appears to have been driven primarily by the same expansion in credit that underlied the real estate bubble, which enabled traders to take advantage of interest rate differentials to earn relatively risk-free profits from a carry trade strategy. Regardless of the fact that these interest rate differentials persist and a carry trade strategy remains theoretically viable, it’s becoming impossible to undertake because of a shortage of credit and liquidity. FX Solutions reports:

The credit crash has affected participation rates in all markets. Many speculative players who depended on credit and leverage to fuel their trading have withdrawn. They will not return anytime soon. In the currency markets this permanent drop in liquidity may keep price movement volatile long after calm has returned to other markets. It has substantially diminished liquidity in the yen crosses which were, for so long, the speculative favorites of currency traders.

Read More: Volatility and the Carry Trade

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Investing & Trading, Japanese Yen | No Comments »

Forex Rally Comes to an End

Nov. 4th 2008

These days, the Dollar and the Yen are veritable proxies for investor confidence/risk tolerance. As a result, on days when US stocks rise, the Dollar (somewhat ironically) will typically experience a decline. Over the last couple weeks, it should therefore come as no surprise that the tremendous rise in US stock prices was matched by a proportional fall in both the Dollar and the Yen. If only for technical reasons (i.e. that the scale tipped too much in the other direction), it seems investors have regained some of their comfort with investing in emerging markets, leading some of the hardest-hit currencies (Korean Won, Brazilian Real, Mexican Peso) to recover some of their gains. Call it wishful thinking, but some investors now believe that the US recession will be milder than originally forecast, which would certainly exert a positive impact on such emerging market economies. In addition, there were monetary factors underlying the currency reversal, reports The Washington Post:

There were more specific reasons for some of the fluctuations. A news report that the Bank of Japan might cut rates in the near future was a factor in driving down the yen.

Read More: Currency Swings Reverse Course

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Japanese Yen, US Dollar | No Comments »

G7 Discusses Yen

Oct. 27th 2008

The G7 Industrialized Nations met today in Tokyo to discuss the credit crisis, with a focus on its impact on forex markets. The Japanese Yen, specifically, has exploded in recent weeks, as nervous investors have fled emerging markets and other risky sectors, and have unwound carry trades (funded with Yen) in the process. Evidently, this is wrecking havoc on the Japanese economy, which has a notoriously frail domestic sector and is heavily reliant on exports to drive growth. The Central Bank of Japan has recently threatened intervention, and now that the G7 is presumably on board, it may do just that. The New York Times reports:

The statement, which said the G-7 would "monitor the markets closely and cooperate as appropriate," came as countries in Asia, spooked by the relentless sell-offs in the stock markets, scrambled to support their economies.

Read More: Group of 7 Meeting in Tokyo Tackles Yen’s Rise

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Japanese Yen, Politics & Policy | No Comments »

Yen Buoyed by “Safe Haven” Trade

Oct. 3rd 2008

In times of financial crisis, investors can reasonably be expected to park their money in the least risky capital markets. In this case, that means those in the US and Japan. Compare this so-called "safe haven" trade with the "carry trade" that preponderated in previous years, as investors shifted capital away from Japan in order to earn higher yields. Now, as volatility surges to dangerous levels, investors are going to increasingly great lengths to mitigate risk. At least until the negotiations surrounding the US government bailout are resolved (whether in success or failure), big bets are off the table. In other words, few investors continue to scour the globe for yield, which eliminates the raison d’etre of the carry trade. Bloomberg News reports:

"These are not the right times to be putting on any bold trades because it’s the perfect environment for getting whipsawed,” said [one analyst]. "I think waiting on the sidelines is probably the most prudent thing to do.”

Read More: Yen Posts Biggest Weekly Gain Since May on Bailout Clash, WaMu

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Investing & Trading, Japanese Yen | No Comments »

Yen Unfazed by Dollar Rally

Sep. 15th 2008

Over the last couple months, the Dollar has notched some impressive returns against nearly all major currencies, including a 13% gain against its chief rival, the Euro. Nearly is italicized because the pack includes a lone stray-the Japanese Yen-which has managed to maintain most of its value during the Dollar rally. The Yen has benefited from the same trend towards risk aversion that has underlied the Dollar’s strength. Because of the preponderance of carry trades which utilize Yen as a funding currency, spikes in volatility tend to benefit the Yen disproportionately as skittish investors unwind their Yen-short positions. Even excluding volatility, a global easing of monetary policy (including recent cuts in Australia and New Zealand) has lowered yield differentials and made the carry trade far less lucrative. In any event, the Yen now finds itself locked in an epic battle with the Dollar to determine which currency is the least risky in times of crisis. The Wall Street Journal reports:

"As we’ve seen during past episodes of risk aversion and the unwinding of risk trades, some of those were funded with the yen. As those were unwound it involves buying back the yen and it appreciated against a lot of currencies."

Read More: Clash of the Titans: The Dollar and Yen

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Economic Indicators, Japanese Yen, US Dollar | No Comments »

Mortgage Bailout Hurts Yen

Sep. 8th 2008

The Yen has been hammered over the last month, by both the sudden strength of the Dollar and increasing comfort with risk-taking. Now that the US government is set to bail out the two American mortgage giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, investors are likely to become even more confident that the global economy is in strong enough shape to weather the credit crisis. As demand for risky investments- such as stocks and high-yielding currencies- grows, the Yen (because of low interest rates) will once again find itself as one of the main funding currencies for the carry trade. Of course, risk-aversion is a two-way street, and one stumble in the US economy, for example, would benefit the Yen. Bloomberg News reports:

"The yen is likely to take a hit. A government bailout will certainly stabilize Freddie and Fannie and improve risk appetite for carry trades."

Read More: Yen Drops Most in 3 Months as U.S. Takes Over Fannie, Freddie

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Investing & Trading, Japanese Yen | No Comments »

Decoupling Debunked

Aug. 28th 2008

When the credit crisis kicked off in 2007, many online forex traders and economic analysts quietly began to circulate the theory of "decoupling," which asserted the global economy was strong enough to weather a downturn in the US economy. In other words, it was expected that the credit crisis would be contained within the US, and the rest of the world would plod along, unaffected. This notion now appears to be completely without merit, except in a few isolated cases.

Instead, economies from Europe to Asia are sinking, and sinking fast. Some economies, namely Japan and Germany, have even begun to contract! Canada and Australia may slide into recession, regardless of what happens in commodity markets. Within this context, the Dollar’s 10% rally is not much of a mystery. In other words, this rally is probably more a function of economic weakness in other countries than of US economic strength. In addition, the end of de-coupling works both ways; a global economic downturn could further harm the US. A wave of negative economic data and/or the next round of debt write-downs could send the Dollar spiraling downwards. The Telegraph reports:

We are not witnessing a dollar rally so much as a collapse in European and commodity currencies. The race to the bottom has begun in earnest.

Read More: Dollar surge will not stop America feeling the effects of a global crunch

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Euro, Japanese Yen, Politics & Policy, US Dollar | No Comments »

Credit Crisis Could Lift Yen, Franc

Jul. 31st 2008

As the credit crisis has unfolded, the Dollar has remained (relatively) strong, especially considering the deteriorating state of its economy. The reason for this, of course, is that in times of crisis, investors flock to perceived safe havens, such as the US and EU. However, an especially pessimistic series of economic developments has called into question the wiseness of this strategy. A handful of American banks and mortgage institutions have already collapsed, and bankruptcies in all sectors of the economy will surely become more common. The picture in Europe is equally bleak. Several economic indicators have fallen to multi-year lows, and the ECB’s decision to hike rates looks increasingly misguided. Given these circumstances, where can investors turn? Perhaps, to Japan and Switzerland, reports The Market Oracle:

The Swiss franc and the Japanese yen…were the great beneficiaries during the Crash of ’87, the Debt Crisis of 1998 and again during the current credit crisis, enjoying sweeping and massive upward moves.

Read More: Crisis Currencies Poised to Surge as Frightened Capital Flows from Risk to Safety

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Yen Back in Vogue

Jul. 2nd 2008

Volatility, the perennial enemy of the carry trade, has returned with a vengeance. The US stock market, a proxy for global risk appetite, has fallen significantly (nearly 20%) over the last six months, a trend that has accelerated over the last two weeks. By no coincidence, the Japanese Yen and Swiss Franc have rallied dramatically over the same time period. On one hand, currency trading is seemingly becoming more cut-and-dried, as correlations strengthen between different sectors of the global capital markets and specific currencies. The respective inverse relationships between the Dollar and oil, and between the Yen and US stocks, have been particularly strong of late. In the end, though, it is anyone’s best guess whether the price of oil will continue to rise and stocks will continue to fall. Reuters reports:

"We’re back on the brink," said one analyst. "It seems there is a feeling of resignation and helplessness amid this credit crisis."

Read More: Yen and Swiss franc gain as risk appetite fades

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Investing & Trading, Japanese Yen | No Comments »

Euro Outshines Yen

Jun. 16th 2008

Most of the stories and analysis featured on the Forex Blog concern the Dollar, or at the very least, how other currencies are performing relative to the Dollar. But there are many important currency pairs that don’t involve the Greenback, including the Euro/Yen. Last week, the Euro climbed to its highest level in 2008 against the Yen, thanks to diverging economies and interest rates. Neither economy is particularly strong, but the Bank of Japan is using especially bearish language to describe its faltering economy. It should be noted that despite a prolonged period of economic growth, the Bank of Japan avoided raising interest rates even once. Meanwhile, the European Central Bank is becoming increasingly hawkish in its monetary policy rhetoric. The result has been a sustained (and soon-to-widen) interest rate differential, which has contributed to a dynamic that is unique to these two currencies. Bloomberg News reports:

The yen fell against every major counterpart today after a government report showed Japan’s longest postwar expansion may be over.

Read More: Euro Climbs to Year’s Highest Against Yen on Rate Speculation

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Euro, Investing & Trading, Japanese Yen | No Comments »

Yen Falls on Risk Aversion

May. 12th 2008

"The credit crisis is over! No it’s not! Yes it is!"

Such back and forth represents the tenor of the debate currently transpiring in the financial markets. Every day seems to bring new economic data, which is quickly seized upon by both sides as evidence for their respective positions, causing the markets to rise and fall accordingly. In this regard, the Japanese Yen and the Swiss Franc serve as proxies for investor sentiment. When the markets rally, investors are quick to dump both currencies in favor of higher-yielding alternatives. On the other hand, when a large investment bank announces a write-down on its subprime investments, or when economic data indicate falling housing prices, investors are quick to unwind their short positions (carry trades). The advice of the Forex Blog is to take every development in stride and to remember that no definitive conclusions can be reached at this point.

Read More: Yen Weakens on Speculation Worst of Financial Crisis Is Over

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Investing & Trading, Japanese Yen | No Comments »

Yen Carry Trade Under Siege

Apr. 17th 2008

Volatility levels on JPY/AUD forward contracts recently jumped to 25%, the highest level since the Asian financial crisis of 1997-1998.  Combined with other factors, this suggests that the JPY/AUD carry trade, whereby investors borrow in low-yield Yen in order to invest in high-yield Australian Dollars, may be coming to an end.  Economic indicators show a faltering Australian economy, sagging confidence, and a record trade deficit.  Meanwhile, inflation has moderated, such that it is unlikely that the Royal Bank of Australia will hike rates any further and enhance the nation’s comparatively attractive yields.  Even though the interest rate differential between Australia and Japan remains a healthy 6.75%, investors may deem this inadequate compensation for the risk implied by weak economic fundamentals. Bloomberg News reports:

"For the next one or two quarters, the Aussie’s fundamentals will probably look very soggy. I would suggest the Aussie dollar is expensive. There has been a stunning shift back in favor of the yen," [said one analyst].

Read More: Australian Dollar May Fall 10%, Suncorp-Metway Says

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Japanese Yen | No Comments »

Central Bank of Japan Appoints Leader

Apr. 8th 2008

For several months, the Central Bank of Japan had been leaderless, creating a situation that was politically and economically awkward.  Finally, after much debate, Masaaki Shirakawa, a former academic and veteran central banker, was appointed.  It is unclear what effect Mr. Shirakawa will have on Japan’s economy, which is foundering (for reasons unrelated to the global credit crunch).  He is considered highly competent, and analysts have suggested that he could help Japan develop a sensible and focused economic policy, which has been lacking for quite a while. With regard to monetary policy, he is unlikely to either raise or lower interest rates from the current level of .5%.  Thus, if he is to return Japan to economic credibility, he will have to use other methods. Nonetheless, analysts are optimistic. The New York Times reports:

Simply having a hand at the central bank’s tiller will do much to restore global confidence in Japan and its ability to manage its $5 trillion economy, economists and former bank officials said.

Read More: Japan Approves New Bank Chief

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Central Banks, Japanese Yen | No Comments »

Return of the Carry Trade?

Mar. 26th 2008

After the Fed cut its benchmark lending rate by 75 basis points last week, the Dollar immediately rallied 2.5% against the Japanese Yen, marking its highest daily rise in nine years.  Some analysts are at a loss to explain this phenomenon, since a narrower interest rate differential should have produced the opposite effect.  Perhaps, the answer can be found in the carry trade, whereby investors sell Yen in favor of higher-yielding currencies.  Support for the carry trade typically moves inversely with volatility.  For example, when risk aversion rises due to economic uncertainty, investors typically unwind their carry trade positions.  With the Fed rate cut last week, however, risk aversion actually fell, and the S&P 500 Index surged.  By no coincidence, the Yen fell. Reuters reports:

As U.S. stocks rallied, with investors willing to take on more risk, the dollar recouped some of Monday’s sharp losses versus the low-yielding yen.

Read More: Dollar posts biggest gain vs yen in nine years

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Investing & Trading, Japanese Yen | No Comments »

Japan (Also) Mulls Intervention

Mar. 25th 2008

Yesterday, the Forex Blog reported that the risk of intervention in forex markets is growing, in order to prop up an ailing Dollar.  The focus of the post was on the Euro, which is hovering below the record high of $1.60 reached last week. With this post, we wish to extend coverage of the potential intervention to include Japan.  In some respects, Japan is actually a more likely candidate for intervention, since it has a history of actively depressing its currency.  Most recently, in 2004, it accumulated $350 Billion in Dollar-denominated assets in a large scale effort to keep the Yen from rising out of control. 

Japan’s consumers are notoriously tightfisted, and consequently, its economy is dependent on the export sector to drive growth. Unfortunately, the more expensive Yen is making this sector less competitive. In addition, Japan’s new Prime Minister has yet to lay out an economic plan, and the stock market is foundering. A number of creative solutions are being mulled, including one to buy American mortgage-backed securities, in order to head off the international opposition to intervention. The New York Times reports:

That might win Washington’s approval by helping to ease the credit squeeze in the United States, but given such securities’ role in precipitating the crisis of the last several months, it might well set off cries of dismay here.

Read More: As Dollar Keeps Falling, Talk of a Move by Japan

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Central Banks, Japanese Yen | No Comments »

Bank Collapses, Dollar Plummets

Mar. 17th 2008

Over the weekend, Bear Stearns, a prestigious American investment bank, hurriedly scrambled to find a buyer in order to avoid having to file for bankruptcy. While a buyer (JP Morgan) was ultimately secured, investors remained jittery, as the collapse of this magnitude is virtually unprecedented.  When forex markets re-opened on Monday, the Dollar crashed against all of the world’s major currencies, namely the Euro and the Yen. Furthermore, analysts are now beginning to view forex intervention as increasingly likely. It’s still unclear whether the Bank of Japan or the European Central Bank (with or without support from the Fed) would spearhead any such intervention.  At the breakneck speed at which events are unfolding, however, no one will be surprised if a plan is quickly cobbled together. The Wall Street Journal reports:

"Were such intervention to be seen, (the euro) could briefly trade down to $1.55, yet unless the (ECB) is prepared to back up such intervention with a rate cut, intervention will be futile," said [one analyst].

Read More: Dollar’s Slide Keeps Pace

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Central Banks, Euro, Japanese Yen, US Dollar | No Comments »

The Yen Marches On

Mar. 14th 2008

In recent periods of Dollar Weakness, all of the major currencies have been quick to capitalize- all but the Japanese Yen.  After a while, it became clear that the Yen was being held down by carry traders, who sold Yen in favor of higher-yielding, more risky currencies.  It was long believed that the only thing that would shake the Yen loose from its moorings was not a Japanese interest rate hike or economic growth, but volatility in capital and forex markets.  Sure enough, the explosion of the credit crisis induced a rapid appreciation in the Yen.  Yesterday, it crashed through the psychological milestone of 100 for the first time since 1995.

But can the Yen sustain this momentum? On paper, if the Dollar continues to fall, it seems the answer is ‘Yes.’ However, Japan’s economy is extremely dependent on exports. In fact, 50% of its 2007 GDP growth can be attributed to exports. With the Dollar crashing, Japan’s exports are becoming less competitive, and its exports to the US (estimated at $150 Billion) are in jeopardy. In addition, Japanese consumers are notoriously tight-fisted, so it’s unclear who would pick up the slack if the export sector falters.  This begs another question: will the Bank of Japan be forced to intervene in currency markets (like it did in 1995) in order to prevent its economy from dipping into recession? The Wall Street Journal reports:

Its big budget deficit makes a stimulus package more difficult. Intervention — which Tokyo also tried in 2004 during a bout of yen strength — would fly in the face of efforts by the U.S. and other nations to let markets decide currency values.

Read More: Japan Economy Quakes Anew As Yen Soars Against Dollar

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Japanese Yen | No Comments »

Kiwi Rises and Falls with Risk Aversion

Feb. 5th 2008

Most of the world’s major currencies are affected by a variety of technical and fundamental factors, such that only taking into account one factor is tantamount to using P/E multiples as the sole basis for purchasing shares of stock. The New Zealand Dollar, which barely qualifies as a major currency seems to be one of the few exceptions to this common sense rule.  The preponderance of carry traders involved in trading the Yen ensures that the NZD inversely tracks the Japanese Yen.  In addition, the demand for Kiwi is directly proportional to appetite for risk, such that when risk aversion declines, the Kiwi increases, and vice versa.  The reasoning is quite simple: the Kiwi boasts the highest interest rates in the industrialized world. Because the investment climate in New Zealand is less stable than in other industrialized countries, New Zealand often witnesses capital flight during periods of global economic uncertainty.  The New Zealand Herald reports:

Gains in equities markets emboldened investors to take chances, prompting use of the low-yielding yen to buy assets in higher-yielding currencies like the kiwi in carry trades.

Read More: Equities send dollar up

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Yen as Proxy for Risk Aversion

Feb. 1st 2008

The US stock market has lost over 10% of its capitalization since reaching an all-time high in October of last year.  Meanwhile, the Japanese Yen has climbed at least as much in proportional terms since bottoming out around the same time.  Coincidence?  At least one analyst doesn’t think so. Because of the steadfast popularity of the carry trade, the Japanese Yen appears to have developed an inverse correlation with the US stock markets.  The reasoning is actually quite simple. When aversion to risk is low, investors borrow in Japanese Yen and make investments denominated in other currencies, the Dollar for one.  When risk-aversion increases, as it has in the current economic environment, investors have been quick to close out their carry trade positions, causing the Yen to rise. Maktoob Business reports:

If the situation of stock markets is improving, the USD/JPY is likely to be increasing. It means that more carry trade transaction are being carried out.

Read More: Fundamental analysis – Market Correlations

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Investing & Trading, Japanese Yen | No Comments »

Volatility Drives Yen

Jan. 21st 2008

As Asian capital markets crash in unison, the Japanese Yen is rising at its fastest pace in years.  Taken out of context, that sounds like a contradiction, since a positive correlation typically obtains between the strength of a nation’s economy, capital markets, and currency.  However, the Yen is unique, as most forex traders are doubtlessly aware.  The Yen rises and falls with the whims of the carry trade, which in turn is tied closely to volatility.  And in case you haven’t noticed, global capital markets are seesawing to such an extent that by some measures, volatility levels have reached a nine-year high.  One analyst has drawn a parallel between the current credit crisis and the 1998 Asian economic crisis, which also produced a Yen rally.

Read More: History Points to a Yen Rally

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Investing & Trading, Japanese Yen | No Comments »

Risk Aversion Lifts Carry Trade

Jan. 15th 2008

Since July, the Japanese Yen has notched a stellar performance in climbing 15% against the Dollar, without garnering much attention.  Within the last week, however, analysts have begun to take notice, as the carry trade temporarily collapsed and the Yen appreciated by another 3%. ‘But Japan’s Central Bank is no hurry to raise interest rates,’ you are probably wondering. ‘What on earth is all the fuss about?’ Volatility, the sworn enemy of carry traders has exploded.  Global capital markets, including the US stock market, are in a state of turmoil. The financial services industry, the perennial bulwark of the US economy, is set to record its worst year in recent memory.  Leading the way, so-to-speak, is Citigroup, which recently announced that it will write-down an additional $10 Billion in worthless subprime paper and will also receive a proportionately large infusion of capital.  Cue exit music for carry traders. Bloomberg News reports:

"The global and risk environment is dominating yen pricing,” said Chris Turner, head of currency research at ING Financial Markets in London. "There’s risk aversion in the background.”

Read More: Yen Rises as Traders Pare Carry Trades on Credit-Market Losses

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Investing & Trading, Japanese Yen | No Comments »

Yen Buoyed by Exporters

Dec. 26th 2007

The Yen has received a nice boost from Japanese exporters, which moved en masse to exchange Dollars for Yen to meet certain year-end financial obligations.  The logic is that exporters had owed money in arrears to domestic Japanese producers of the goods and services being exported and needed to be paid in Yen. Such logic could theoretically be applied to exporters in ever country, which would provide the same boost to their respective currencies.   However, in addition to being the world’s fourth-largest exporter, Japan’s economy is unusually dependent on exports.  Thus, it is understandable that Japanese exporters could exert such influence on forex markets when entering the market at the same time.

Read More: Yen Rises on Speculation Japanese Exporters Buying the Currency

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Economic Indicators, Japanese Yen | No Comments »

Carry Trade Gains Favor

Dec. 19th 2007

It’s been rough sailing for the Yen carry trade of late; the technique had been sagging in popularity due to the credit crunch and the associated trend towards risk aversion.  Over the last few weeks, however, the Yen has fallen, which is to say the Yen Carry Trade is making a comeback.  First came the announcement that the world’s leading Central Banks would be injecting hundreds of billions of dollars in the banking system, in order to ease growing liquidity concerns.  Next, the Bank of Japan hinted that it would hold rates at .5%, the lowest in the industrialized world.  Finally, a continued surge in commodity prices virtually ensures that countries rich in natural resources, such as Canada and Australia, remain viable "targets" for carry traders.  Overall, the story remains focused around volatility.  In fact, one investment bank discovered an inverse correlation between the S&P 500 and the Japanese Yen.  In other words, the appetite for risk appears closely correlated with the strength of global capital markets and the popularity of the Yen carry trade.  Bloomberg News reports:

Over the last fortnight, that odd correlation with equities has broken down…Instead the fundamental factors behind carry trades have come to the fore again. Investors are paying attention to Japan’s economy.

Read More: The resources to carry on

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Volatility is Hurting Carry Trade

Dec. 8th 2007

While covering the emergence of the carry trade over the last couple years, the Forex Blog has echoed the sentiments of the self-proclaimed experts, who argued that Japanese interest rates would never rise enough to seriously threaten the carry trade. Instead, any threats would have to come in the form of volatility, which would theoretically drive traders to spur the comparatively high returns of carry trading in favor of low risk.  As if on cue, the carry trade has retreated significantly as the credit crisis aka housing bubble shockwave has rippled through global capital markets.  As the negative fallout builds, many of the carry traders who braved the first storm are rushing for the exits.  Bloomberg News reports:

Volatility implied by dollar-yen currency options expiring in one week with a strike price near current levels rose to 13.25 percent… Traders quote implied volatility, a gauge of expected swings in exchange rates, as part of pricing options.

Read More: Yen Advances on Concern Credit Losses Will Deter Carry Trades

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Carry Trade Continues to Suffer

Nov. 21st 2007

The carry trade is officially unwinding, if not coming to an outright end; the result is that the Yen is belatedly joining the ranks of the rest of the world’s major currencies, which have risen tremendously against the Dollar.  The reason for the sudden weakness in the carry trade (i.e. Yen strength) is volatility.  The US "credit crunch" began to significantly effect US bond and stock market valuations almost four months ago, but the full impact still hasn’t been felt.  The latest development concerns the quarterly earnings release for Freddie Mac, an American company whose main purpose is to provide liquidity to the US mortgage market, through the buying and selling of mortgage-backed securities.  However, Freddie Mac is now bleeding money, and while it is unofficially guaranteed by the federal government, investors are seriously questioning its ability to prop up the ailing market for housing CDOs.  And this uncertainty is causing investors to eschew risk, in short, to abandon the carry trade in favor of more traditional forex strategies.  Reuters reports:

The low-yielding Japanese currency tends to do well in times of risk aversion because investors unwind carry trades that use cheaply borrowed yen to buy higher-yielding currencies.

Read More: Dollar sinks to 2-year low vs yen, euro hits highs

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Yen Carry Trade: Going Strong or Coming to an End

Nov. 16th 2007

Yesterday, the Financial Times ran two stories on the Japanese carry trade, painting a seemingly contradictory picture.  The first article profiled the rise in the number of retail forex accounts in Japan, projected to reach 1 million by year-end.  More amazing is the fact that many of these traders are actually quite sophisticated, taking long and short positions in multiple currencies, though of course the most popular bet remains the carry trade, which involves going short the Yen and long a higher-yielding currency.  Meanwhile, as the second article expounded, the Yen carry trade is under pressure, having appreciated nearly 5% against the US Dollar, Euro and Australian Dollar.  The cause is certainly volatility in global capital markets, precipitated by what has been termed a "credit crunch," itself caused by the slump in housing prices. The hoard of Japanese retail investors may have to reverse their positions…

Read More: Pressure grows on yen carry trades and Forex Lures Japanese Investors

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Bank of Japan Leaves Rates Alone

Oct. 11th 2007

As expected, the Bank of Japan left its benchmark interest rate unchanged at its latest meeting.  The current rate of .5% remains the lowest in the industrialized world and thus will continue to fuel the Japanese carry trade.  The Bank fended off the criticism of several European Ministers, wary of the Yen’s continued appreciation against the Euro, including a 5% increase in the last month alone. The EU has insisted that Japan should hike rates immediately both to avoid global economic imbalances and to prevent its own economy from overheating.  Japan defended its decision by pointing to certain small business indicators, which suggest the sector is still underperforming.  Carry traders, rest easy. Bloomberg News reports:

“The Bank of Japan will probably need to put off a hike at least until December to nail down its assessment of global growth as well as the performance of small companies,” said Masaaki Kanno, a former central bank official

Read More: Bank of Japan Votes 8-1 to Keep Key Rate at 0.5%

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Japanese Forex Reserves Near $1 Trillion

Oct. 5th 2007

Japan’s Central Bank now controls over $950 Billion in foreign exchange reserves, second only to those of China.  While Japan is not accumulating significant new reserves, its existing reserves have appreciated in value due to the Euro’s recent ascent.  Analysts are keeping a close eye on the reserves of both countries, which represent close to 50% of the world’s foreign exchange reserves.  In addition, analysts will be watching China, which may take a cue from Japan and diversify some of its reserves into Euro-denominated assets in order to offset the effect of the declining Dollar.  AFX News Limited reports:

Japan’s reserves are closely watched for evidence of how the country is managing its foreign currency holdings. Its actions are seen as having a significant impact on exchange rates and bond markets around the world, particularly the US government bond market.

Read More: Japan’s forex reserves rise to record

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The Yen Also Rises

Sep. 21st 2007

The Japanese Yen is finally appreciating, though how long the upward streak will last is anyone’s guess.  These days, the Yen rises and falls on the whims of carry traders.  However, the enemy of the carry trade is volatility and the Fed’s lowering of US interest rates injected enough uncertainty into the markets to send carry traders slowly towards the exit.  As a result, currencies such as the Australian Dollar and New Zealand Kiwi, long popular with in carry trading circles, were quickly dumped as traders bought Yen to cover their positions. Whether the Yen can sustain its momentum depends primarily on the Central Bank of Japan. Bloomberg News reports:

Carry trades utilizing the New Zealand dollar lost 1.9 percent today, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, after gaining 2.3 percent so far this week as the Federal Reserve reduced the U.S. rate a half percentage point to 4.75 percent.

Read More: New Zealand Dollar Drops as Japanese Investors Return to Yen

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Yen Drops As Investors’ Desire For Risk Returns

Sep. 6th 2007

The US dollar and euro did very well on Thursday, while the yen dropped in comparison. Investors, temporarily confident about the US mortgage crisis, have returned to riskier, higher yielding ventures. So, while Asian and European stocks are going strong, the yen will suffer until the next scare. Reuters reports:

Eyes are now turning to the European Central Bank’s interest rate decision. Expectations of a rate hike from the ECB have diminished since a credit market squeeze that has forced the bank to inject liquidity into the banking system. Most analysts now expect rates to be kept on hold at 4 percent.

Read more: Yen slips as risk appetite edges back

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Dollar Holds Steady as World Awaits US Data Reports

Sep. 4th 2007

Credit problems in the US have been the source of much turmoil throughout the global markets in the past few months. Tuesday was good for the US dollar, which held strong against both the yen and the euro. However, forthcoming economic reports from the US may or may not tip the scales. According to Reuters:

"The panic is almost over, but the market has lost its direction and is waiting for more news, especially any good news," said Kikuko Takeda, a currency strategist at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ.

Read more: Dollar drifts as U.S. data awaited for direction

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Yen Bounces Back From Wednesday’s Drop

Aug. 30th 2007

Investors, confident that the US mortgage situation could be weathered, pulled money out of the yen on Wednesday and put it back into risky carry trades. However, things did not look so promising for the US on Thursday. As a result, the yen was once again strengthened by nervous investors. Reuters reports:

The yen brushed off a rebound in European and Asian stocks and climbed after British newspaper The Times reported that the co-head of RBS Greenwich Capital’s collateralised debt obligations unit had left the bank along with six colleagues.

Read more: Yen recovers as spotlight returns to subprime fallout

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Investment in European Stocks Weakens Yen

Aug. 29th 2007

While the US had a rough day yesterday, European stocks performed well enough to tempt investors away from the yen. Though a stable currency, the yen is a low-yielding investment and traders are ready to try their hand at a riskier venture with European stocks. There is no word yet on how this may affect Wall Street. According to Forbes:

This has pushed the yen down as investors make tentative steps back to engaging in the risky carry trade – where investors sell low-yielding currencies such as the yen to buy higher-yielding ones elsewhere. With no US data due this afternoon, how equities fare on Wall Street is likely to determine whether the rise in risk appetite can be sustained.

Read more: Yen falls back as stable European stocks prompt revival in risk appetite

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Credit Problems Strengthen Yen

Aug. 28th 2007

Once again, fear of US mortgage problems has led investors back to arms of the reliable yen. A low-yield, low-risk currency, the Japanese yen has become a safe haven for skittish traders in recent weeks. Investors are right to be concerned, as the US housing market hasn’t been in this kind of shape in two decades. Reuters reports:

The yen extended gains against the dollar after a measure of U.S. home prices reflected the biggest year-on-year decline in the second quarter since 1987.

Read more: Yen rises as credit fears swirl

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Yen Suffers as Carry Trading Resumes

Aug. 22nd 2007

Following a tumultuous period that stemmed from mortgage problems in the US, the global markets are finally calming down. While this is good news for most, the Japanese yen is weakening as a result. Why the change? Investors are feeling more confident about high-yielding ventures once again, leading them to pull out of the yen and continue with high-risk carry trading. Reuters reports:

While confidence in global credit markets has by no means been fully restored and fears remain that short-term liquidity could dry up, investors across a range of asset classes felt bold enough to shun safe-havens and seek higher returns.

Read more: Yen lower as calm returns to markets

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Dollar and Yen Continue to Strengthen

Aug. 16th 2007

Despite the effects of US subprime mortgage troubles on the rest of the world, investors have scaled back risky ventures and increased the value of both dollar and yen. While this result may be inadvertent, it is much appreciated by those who have lost major funds in the stock market recently. The future doesn’t look any brighter for US mortgage, either. According to Hemscott:

Housing starts sank 6.1 pct in July to a 1.381 million unit annual rate, the lowest since January, while building permits — a more forward-looking indicator — fell 2.8 pct to a 1.373 million rate, the lowest since October of 1996.

Read more: Dollar and yen continue higher amid flight to safety

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Japanese Avert Trouble Spreading From West

Aug. 10th 2007

With the United States’ mortgage problems trickling into Europe, many investors have been thrown into a panic. However, the Japanese have reduced their high-risk investments, moving funds back into the reliable yen. As a result, the yen is fairing much better than other currencies. Those who have suffered from this sudden scramble include New Zealand and Australia. According to Forbes:

The increasing pressures in credit markets — with the European Central
Bank yesterday injecting 95 bln eur to boost liquidity in euro money markets — came on fears that the US subprime mortgage troubles may be spreading to Europe. Several banks admitted exposure to subprime markets, and BNP Paribas froze three asset-backed funds. This caused investors to panic and cut their exposure to carry trades — the use of low-yielding currencies to fund higher-yielding investments

Read more: Yen still strong on risk aversion

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Slight Unwind in Yen Carry Trade

Jul. 29th 2007

Last week witnessed a sudden unwinding in the yen carry trade, as a global market downturn affected investor sentiment towards risk. Volatility is the only market force that could seriously contend at collapsing the carry trade, and last week produced significant volatility. All of the world’s majors fell against the Yen, namely the New Zealand Kiwi, which fell by 7.5%. The kiwi, you may recall, has been one of the main currencies on the other end of the carry trade, due to its high interest rates. However, analysts are reluctant to proclaim an outright end to the popular carry trade, preferring to wait and see how volatile the world’s capital markets appear in
the coming weeks. The Financial Times reports:

The wave of risk reduction also prompted investors to take profits in the Australian and New Zealand dollars, which have surged this year from central bank credit tightening or expectations of more tightening to come.

Read More: Yen hits 3-month high versus euro

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Yen Descends to Record Low

Jul. 9th 2007

The Japanese Yen has slid to a record low against the Euro, with no obvious end in sight to the wounded currency’s multi-year decline. The basis for the continued yen weakness is the expectation that Japan will hold interest rates at current levels until the end of the summer, a notion that was reinforced by the Bank of Japan yesterday. As a result, carry traders, who categorically fear volatility, can feel confident that a continued low interest rate environment will support the viability of the Yen carry trade in the short term. However, there are a few risks in the horizon, namely that Japan’s economy and stock market are outperforming and could prompt a series of rate hikes in the fall and lure Japanese capital back to Japan. DailyFX reports:

The rallies are becoming overextended of course and the risk of some action by the Japanese government is increasing, but until carry traders have a reason to bail, they probably will not.

Read More: Japanese Yen Continues to Fall

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Yen Falls to Record Lows

Jun. 22nd 2007

This week, the President of the Central Bank of Japan essentially ruled out the possibility of a near-term rate hike, which was exactly the kind of reassuring news forex carry traders wanted to hear. As a result, the Yen quickly dropped to record lows against the Euro, British Pound and Australian Dollar, as well to a four-year low against the USD.  Surprisingly, the Swiss Franc, would seem an excellent candidate to fund the carry trade, is also surging. Now that any near-term volatility-which is the bane of carry traders-has been removed, the carry trade is likely to thrive. High-yielding currencies, such as the New Zealand Kiwi, will likely attract continued attention from speculators. At this point, it seems the only thing that could possibly slow the carry trade is a Japanese rate hike, or the mere threat of one.

Read More: Carry trades hit yen but Swiss franc surges

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No End to Carry Trade?

Jun. 11th 2007

It has been mooted on several currency forums, including here, that volatility is the enemy of the carry trade.  For this reason, many analysts predicted that last week’s bond market collapse would send Japanese capital-which had been parked in the US-back to Japan, thus triggering a rapid appreciation in the Japanese Yen. But nothing of the sort materialized. The Yen was virtually unaffected by the week’s turmoil, as Japanese investors continue to invest in countries that offer high-yielding investments, such as New Zealand, which surprisingly raised interest rates to 8%.  A Japanese senior official supported this notion, reports The Financial Times:

“The size of any carry trades that would unwind is relatively small compared to the entire foreign-exchange market.”

Read More: Japan official sees no end to carry trade

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Japanese Yen Slides Further

May. 30th 2007

The Japanese Yen continues to slide against the both USD and the Euro, despite Japan’s purportedly strong economy.  The release of dovish inflation data was music to the ears of Japan’s Central Bank, which seems intent on leaving interest rates frozen at .5% for as long as Japan’s economy will support it.  Meanwhile, volatility is way below its historical average, and traders remain committed to the carry trade. In addition, currency futures prices indicate that traders believe the Yen will fall further in the near-term. Bloomberg News reports:

“In times of low volatility and plenty of cash, people tend to put on carry trades,” said Meg Browne, a senior currency strategist.

Read More: Yen May Reach Record Low Versus Euro as Prices Forecast to Fall

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US Congress Discusses Yen Manipulation

May. 17th 2007

This week, the US Congress conducted a hearing on “Currency Manipulation And Its Effects On American Businesses And Workers,” for which it invited numerous experts to weigh in on undervalued currencies.  Among those who testified was General Motor’s Chief Economist, who discussed Japan’s purported policy of holding down the Yen, within the context of the auto industry.  He argued that by maintaining an already large and growing reserve of foreign exchange, by purchasing US assets through quasi-governmental institutions, and by threatening to intervene in forex markets if the Yen appreciated, Japan has successfully prevented the Yen from rising over the last few years, despite such a course being justified by economic fundamentals.

“Japan’s policies provided anywhere from a $2,000 to $14,000 cash windfall for each of the 2.2 million vehicles Japan’s automakers exported to the U.S. in 2006.”

Read More: GM chief economist testifies against alleged Japanese currency manipulation

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ECB cautions against Euro appreciation

Apr. 23rd 2007

“Pick your battles,” seems to be the mantra that Jean-Claude Trichet, President of the European Central Bank (“ECB”), is currently living by.  While the Euro is slowly inching closer to record levels against the USD, Trichet has largely been content to focus his energy on a different nagging currency: the Japanese Yen.  Trichet has invoked the phrase “two-way risks” in cautioning investors to beware the enormous potential upside of the Yen.  Trichet realizes that the Japan-EU interest rate differential, manifested through the carry trade, is responsible for the diverging Euro-Yen exchange rate.  Ultimately, it remains unclear whether the EU will continue to limit itself to rhetoric in the battle to hold down the Euro, or whether it will use more heavy-handed tactics.  Forbes reports:

“We believe the Japanese economy is on a sustainable path and that foreign exchange rates should reflect that,” Trichet said.

Read More: ECB’s Trichet says currency markets should be
aware of ‘two-way risks’

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Yen Carry Trade Remains Popular

Apr. 16th 2007

Several months ago, I wrote a commentary piece on why it was wise for forex traders to abandon in the carry trade in favor of more innovative trading strategies.  I may have to eat my words, since interest in the carry trade hasn’t waned as expected, but rather has grown.  Economic data support the notion that the carry trade is almost fully responsible for the plight of the Yen, as Japan is experiencing a net outflow of capital on paper.  Anecdotal evidence is also abounding; dozens of forex firms have sprung in Japan to help retail investors take advantage of the declining Yen.  Meanwhile, when probed on the issue, the Chief Economist of the International Monetary Fund (“IMF”) indicated that he does not think it necessary for Japan to intervene in forex markets and prop up the Yen.  Dow Jones reports:

“The weakness of the yen in particular suggests that the forthcoming G7 meeting is having little impact on market psychology and focus is instead on declining volatilities, which has served to attract market flows back into carry trades.”

Read More: Interest In Carry Trades Likely To Intensify

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BOJ spurs carry trade

Apr. 10th 2007

To no one’s surprise, the Bank of Japan has announced that it would maintain Japanese interest rates at the current level of .25%.  Carry traders seized upon the opportunity to continue borrowing Yen at near-record lows, and selling the Japanese currency in favor of higher-yielding alternatives.  In fact, the news was met with such gusto that the Euro was almost immediately propelled to an all-time high against the Yen, which continues to plumb the depths of forex disfavor.  At this point, analysts and economists are feeling fairly certain that Japanese interest rates will remain at current levels in the near-term, a sentiment which supports the viability of the carry trade. Forbes reports:

One analyst commented: “with BoJ expectations stable, currency market volatility subsiding and risk aversion abating, carry trades are recovering, keeping the yen under pressure.” He sees no immediate catalyst for a yen recovery.

Read More: Euro hits record high against yen as carry trades continue

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Carry Trade Under Pressure

Mar. 28th 2007

The Yen is rising once again, as another set of investors unwind their carry trade positions. No, it wasn’t the threat of higher borrowing costs, via a hike in Japanese interest rates, that spooked investors. Rather, it was general volatility in forex markets that jolted investors to re-assess their short positions in the Yen. Volatility is anathema to carry traders, as shorting a currency is similar to shorting a stock. Once any security that one has shorted begins to rise, short sellers are pressured to ‘buy to cover’ which only sends the currency higher and triggers further buying to cover. This phenomenon is known as a ‘short squeeze’ and seems to affect the Yen every time volatility surfaces. The Financial Times reports:

Analysts said the resulting rise in risk aversion had led investors to exit carry trades, in which the purchase of riskier high-yielding assets is funded by selling low-yielding currencies such as the yen.

 

Read More: Investors exit from carry trades

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Carry trade returns in force

Mar. 19th 2007

The Yen has already dropped to a 3-week low against the world’s major currencies as forex traders move to put the crash in global capital markets behind them. Volatility, the factor that many analysts consider the bane of the carry trade, is also declining. Tomorrow, the Bank of Japan is expected to announce that interest rates will be left unchanged, and probably will remain at current levels until the end of the year. This announcement should further put the minds of traders at ease. All in all, it looks like the Yen will resume its gradual downward path that it was pursuing prior to the bounce it received from the crash. Forbes reports:

Recently, sharp falls on equity markets…had sparked some unwinding of carry trades. Investors have begun the week by resuming them following firm US inflation data last week and solid gains in equity markets.

Read More: Yen continues to edge lower as carry trades resume

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Yen settles down after turbulent week

Mar. 11th 2007

Last week, the Japanese Yen reached levels of volatility not seen in years, as a sell-off in Asian capital markets spread to forex markets, and nervous investors began to unwind carry trade positions in the Japanese Yen. The Yen spiked almost 3% in an instant, and many analysts feared a Yen appreciation on a scale comparable to 1998, when the Yen appreciated by almost 15% in two days. This time around, the Yen failed to maintain its upward momentum, and soothed investors began to rebuild their short positions in the Yen, driving it back towards its earlier value. The Financial Times reports:

Currency flow data showed that institutional investors had amassed massive short yen positions in the last six months at an average rate of about Y119.70 against the dollar. At the current rate, they would take until April 30 to be squared.

Read More: Calm returns to currencies after a volatile week

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Sudden risk-aversion drives Yen upward

Mar. 5th 2007

Global capital markets picked up today right where they left off last week, sliding downward with no end in sight. A general aversion to risk is driving the markets, as investors pile out of equities and into bonds. Also benefiting from the global sell-off is the Japanese Yen, as nervous investors move to cover their carry positions built up over the last year by buying Yen. It remains to be seen whether the Yen will continue its upward move after the current frenzy subsides, since it may just as well be a temporary increase in volatility that is driving the Yen rather than a long-term correction. Once the markets cool, it is possible that complacent investors will move once again to build up their Yen short positions. Forbes reports:

Now, locked in a reverse vicious cycle, the rapid unwinding of carry trades has applied upward pressure on the yen, compelling other investors to reduce positions on carry trades and enticing speculative currency traders to buy yen.

Read More: Investors Adjust to the Yen’s Surge

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Carry trade partially unravels

Mar. 1st 2007

Yesterday, the collapse which roiled global financial markets spread to forex markets, causing the Yen to loosen from its moorings and sending the currency upward against most of the world’s major currencies, including a 2% rise against the USD. While the Yen has already given back some of these gains, many analysts are already speculating that this jolt some life into the Yen and put an end to the carry trade which has sent the Yen to record lows. Ultimately, it is volatility that will lift the Yen, and Yen bulls are surely hoping for another week like this one. CBS Marketwatch reports:

“One of the things that carry trade relies on is relative low levels of volatility. Clearly the most recent catalyst has been the Chinese market meltdown triggering a meltdown in other emerging markets and basically a shift out of riskier assets into less risky assets.”

Read More: Carry trade unwinding roils currency markets

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Commentary: What will it take to end the Yen carry trade?

Feb. 21st 2007

Before I attempt to answer the following question, let’s examine where the Japanese Yen is today and more importantly, how it got there. The story begins around the establishment of the second Bretton-Woods agreement, which de-linked the USD from gold, and ushered in the modern era of freely floating currencies. In the 30 years that have elapsed since this period began, the Yen has never been less valuable. In fact, in trade-weighted terms, the Japanese Yen is at an all-time low!

The decline began in 1995, touched off by a nagging recession and the accompanying easy monetary policy, in which Japanese real interest rates were effectively negative. The decline seems to have accelerated over the past five years, due to the proliferation of the carry trade. In this type of trade, investors borrow Japanese Yen at a low interest rate, and sell the Yen for a currency which is supported by higher interest rates. The profit, known as carry, is the spread between the two rates. Hedge funds have piled into the carry trade, driving the Yen to lower and lower depths.

Politicians, relying on economists, have begun to clamor for reform. For a while, trade representatives and politicians insisted Japan was intervening on behalf of the Yen, which was ostensibly keeping the Yen grounded. They have since retreated from this position and embraced the carry trade theory as being responsible. Regardless of the causes, everyone agrees that the Yen’s undervaluation is not only destabilizing, but is economically inefficient. After all, Japan is home to the world’s largest trade surplus, and its economy is growing at an annualized rate of almost 5%!

So why doesn’t Japan give in and raise rates? The answer, it turns out, may not even matter. Traders have speculated that it require a rise of 200 basis points in Japanese interest rates for the carry trade to lose its appeal, an event which is extremely unlikely to occur by the end of 2007. Instead, a little bit of volatility in forex markets might go a long way in coaxing the currency upward. The Economist has drawn an analogy of the current situation to 1998, when the Russian default made hedge funds nervous, and they unwound their carry positions in the Yen. The result was a rapid 15% appreciation in the Yen.

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Yen fails attempt at appreciation

Feb. 16th 2007

The Japanese Yen had a strong opportunity to reverse its long-term slide against the USD this week after the release of economic data, which indicated the Japanese economy is now expanding at an annualized rate of 4.8%. This is the fastest growth recorded by Japan in almost a decade, increasing the likelihood that the Central Bank of Japan will finally raise rates at its meeting next week, and induce an end in the carry trade, which has prevented the Yen from rising in accordance with what analysts believe are strong economic fundamentals. Unfortunately, the Yen largely failed to move against the USD, which means it will probably take more than a rate hike to drive the Yen out of its entrenched pit. FxStreet reports:

Read More: Dollar takes breather vs yen after sell-off

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Paulson unfazed by Yen

Feb. 7th 2007

In response to an outpouring of anger and frustration by EU officials that the subject of the Japanese Yen be discussed at this week’s G7 meeting, US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has publicly stated that he does not believe there is anything to talk about. For two years, the Yen has remained the world’s most conspicuously undervalued currency. American trade lobbyists and EU trade officials insist it is because of the perceived threat of intervention by the Central Bank of Japan should the currency ever appreciate. However, most traders and financial economists would tell you that the cause is simple: low Japanese interest rates have resulted in carry trading, which by definition puts downward pressure on the Yen. It is on this side of the fence that Paulson seems to be standing. Reuters reports:

“I think the big point I made at the hearing yesterday was that — in counter-distinction to China — the Japanese have a currency that is traded in an open and competitive marketplace based upon economic fundamentals,” Paulson said.

Read More: Paulson satisfied yen value set by markets

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Yen slides to new lows

Feb. 1st 2007

The Yen is by far the weakest major currency in the world, having recently touched an all-time low against the Euro and a four-year low against the USD, despite strong economic fundamentals and a positive current account balance. It has been reported exhaustively that the cause of the Yen weakness are low interest rates, which has spurred investors to borrow cheaply in Yen and invest in higher-yielding currencies. Even domestic Japanese investors are exerting downward pressure on the Yen by shifting funds abroad in the search for yield. The lower the Yen drifts-in complete defiance of economic fundamentals-the greater the risk a sudden reversal poses to global forex markets; at this point, it could be devastating. The Wall Street Journal reports:

The extent of this kind of trading is notoriously difficult to measure. But, according to a Jan. 26 report by Barclays Capital, the magnitude of yen-funded carry trades “is reaching scary levels” not seen since 1998.

Read More: As Yen Slides, Fears Mount Of a Shakeout

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G7 Meeting may cause Yen to appreciate

Jan. 25th 2007

While its economy expands, its currency sinks. This is the conundrum that currently defines Japan. At this point, it is evident that the weakness in the Japanese Yen can be almost solely attributed to low interest rates, which have spurred countless traders to borrow in yen and invest in higher-yielding currencies, as part of a carry-trade strategy. It seems Japan is either unsure that its economy can withstand a rate hike-which would elevate its currency-or simply unwilling to take such a chance when a cheap currency is spurring export growth. In any event, the G7 will officially take up the issue at a conference next month in response to rising foreign criticism that Japan is artificially holding the Yen down. The Financial Times reports:

“European” concerns over yen weakness might may actually reflect French and Italian concerns and with Angela Merkel, German chancellor, playing down worries over euro strength, the “G7 factor” may not last.

Read More: G7 speculation fuels volatile yen

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Low rates continue to depress Yen

Jan. 21st 2007

In a move that jived with investor expectations, the Bank of Japan voted last week to maintain interest rates at current levels, which leaves the benchmark lending rate of .25% the lowest in the industrialized world. While Japan has definitively emerged from its decade-long recession, policy makers apparently are not convinced that the economy is in strong enough shape to support a rate hike. Besides, the Central Bank is certainly enjoying downward pressure on the Japanese Yen in forex markets, since a cheap Yen makes for competitive exports, which are the cornerstone of Japan’s economy. The upshot is that the carry trade, in which investors borrow in Yen and invest in securities denominated in higher-yielding currencies, will remain a viable option for the foreseeable future. Reuters reports:

Even if the BOJ had lifted rates, many analysts believed a move would provide little relief to the yen because short-term Japanese interest rates remain so much lower than those of other currencies and the BOJ has pledged to lift rates only gradually.

Read More: Yen hits 13-month low, BOJ keeps rates on hold

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Low volatility drives carry trade

Dec. 27th 2006

2006 was a turbulent year, as many of the world’s major currencies fell out of synch, rising or falling by as much as 15%. Nonetheless, implied volatility (which can be calculated indirectly from currency options), fell to multi-year lows. Analysts have attributed this phenomenon to improved communication of Central Banks, a significant increase in forex trading volumes and a relatively stable global economy. As a result, the carry trade has defied the predictions of experts (including your correspondent) by remaining popular. Investors continue to borrow in Yen and Swiss Francs (with interest rates of .25% and 2% respectively) and invest in higher-yielding currencies. If the current monetary framework remains in place, this should be a profitably strategy. However, fortunes are lost as quickly as they are made, reports Reuters:

The flip side is that any gains can be quickly eroded by a rally in the funding currency — something which is less likely to happen in markets where volatility is low.

Read More: Low FX volatility, carry trades here to stay

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Economist Urges Asia to accept fall of USD

Dec. 12th 2006

Last week, a well-respected Japanese economist publicly urged Asian nations to take joint action in accepting the fall of the USD against their respective currencies. He encouraged them to fight the temptation to intervene in forex markets, because such could potentially cause massive instability. Most Asian nations would lose on two fronts of the USD continued to decline; their economies would suffer due to less competitive exports, and their USD-denominated reserves would become relatively less valuable. However, it seems that most of these countries could withstand a 20% decline in the USD, despite any negative short term fallout. The New York Times reports:

“It would be very difficult to achieve such coordination. However, we have seen Asia coordinate in some areas where they normally compete, such as when India and China bid for foreign energy assets.”

Read More: Leading Asian Economist Urges Joint Action on Dollar

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Bank of Japan to raise rates

Nov. 21st 2006

According to a recent report, the Bank of Japan may raise interest rates at least once in the coming months. As Japan’s economy continues to surge ahead, the Central Bank is finding it difficult to justify its decade-long policy of easy money. Currency traders are watching this story closely, perhaps more closely than the monetary policy of any other country because it is Japan’s interest rate environment which is responsible for the record low valuation of the Yen. As long as interest rates remain at current levels, the carry trade (in which investors sell Yen and buy other currencies) will remain viable and continue to depress the Yen. AFX News reports:

It will take a definite signal that Japanese interest rates are set to rise further or that US interest rates are more likely to be cut than hiked next year, for the carry trade trend to dissipate, analysts said.

Read More: Yen recovers slightly…

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Carry trade may buoy Yen

Oct. 31st 2006

The Yen is rapidly approaching all-time lows (in real terms) against the world’s major currencies, and many analysts think they understand what’s behind this phenomenon: the carry trade. In a carry-trade strategy, investors will sell a currency that offers a low interest rate (with proportionately low borrowing costs) and will use the proceeds to buy a different currency that is supported by higher interest rates, effectively earning a return equal to the difference in rates. In the case of Japan, negative real interest rates have prompted many investors to short the Yen in favor of higher-yielding currencies, driving the currency to its current depths. However, analysts argue that a slight uptick in the Yen could drive many investors to quickly unload their positions (approximately $80 Billion outstanding), causing the Yen to appreciate. The Financial Times reports:

The potential of the carry trade as a source of future exchange rate volatility has brought back memories of October 1998 when the yen collapsed against the dollar as hedge funds unwound carry trades in response to the Russian financial crisis.

Read More: Analysts fear sudden rise in yen’s value

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Russia buys Yen for forex reserves

Oct. 16th 2006

Due primarily to soaring commodity prices and a strong economy, Russia has amassed the third largest stock of foreign exchange reserves in the world, now totaling $268 Billion. As a result, when Russia announced that it would begin to hold some of its reserves in Yen, forex traders stopped to listen. Previously, Russia’s reserves were denominated in USD and Euro assets. As the Yen is arguably the most undervalued currency in the world, it makes sense from both a financial and risk management standpoint. The Financial Times reports:

While the news was positive for the yen at the margin, it would be wise for investors not to overreact, given the global context in which central banks have been consistently reducing the share of yen in their foreign exchange holdings.

Read More: Russian reserve switch boosts yen

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North Korea weighs on Yen

Oct. 9th 2006

This weekend, North Korea confirmed that it had indeed conducted nuclear weapons testing. Forex markets responded by pummeling the Japanese Yen, for no particular reason other than the proximity of Japan to North Korea. It is clear that the North Korean diplomatic crisis will not exert any effect, positive or negative, on the Japanese economy. Nonetheless, as is often the case, the markets needed something to trade on, and figured a political crisis would provide the impetus to bring the Japanese Yen lower against the USD. Forex TV reports:

“Being anywhere near the Korean peninsula this weekend is not something the foreign exchange market relishes – the yen is underperforming in that situation.”

Read More: Yen continues fall vs dollar on NKorea concerns

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Yen nears all time-low

Oct. 3rd 2006

While most of the ire of Central Banks is currently focused on China, it seems Japan may also deserve some of the attention. Despite the current economic boom and concomitant current account surplus in Japan, the Japanese Yen continues to lose value against the world’s major currencies, a phenomenon that has baffled analysts. In fact, the Yen is currently nearing an all-time low in trade-weighted terms, and recently touched an all-time high against the Euro. Some have speculated that fear that the Bank of Japan will intervene if the Yen rises too sharply has depressed the Yen. Others believe that it is Japan’s low interest rates which have sustained the always-popular carry trade and driven many to sell the Yen in favor of higher-yielding currencies. Still other experts think it is Japan’s ever-growing forex reserves which keep the currency in check. The Economist reports:

Last week was the 21st birthday of the G7’s Plaza Accord, which triggered a huge rise in the yen. The yen is much more undervalued today than it was then.

Read More: Yen and yang

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G7 avoid talk of Yen intervention

Sep. 18th 2006

While many topics were mooted at last weekend’s G7 summit, there was only one subjected that forex traders cared about: whether the world’s developed nations would publicly urge Japan to lift the value of the Yen. Unfortunately, the only reference to the Japanese Yen at the meeting was a comment that suggested the Yen was undervalued and should more closely reflect economic fundamentals. Whether this will actually translate into a stronger Yen remains to be seen. However, most analysts do not expect Japan will take any steps to appreciate the Yen unless the country is pressured to do so. Reuters reports:

Some traders were also disappointed that the G7 dropped the annex from the April meeting’s statement calling explicitly for Asian currencies to appreciate.

Read More: Yen slides back towards all-time lows vs euro

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G7 will discuss Japanese Yen

Sep. 13th 2006

The G7 nations have decided to make a late addition to the agenda for their meeting in Singapore later this month: the weakness of the Japanese Yen. The Yen managed to stay below the radar for years, but due to growing trade imbalances, leaders from other industrialized nations have begun to complain that Japan’s Central Bank is artificially depressing the Yen to give Japanese exporters an unfair advantage. Especially now that Japan’s economy seems to have definitely emerged from its recessionary and deflationary period, it no longer requires a cheap Yen. This development could have important ramifications in forex markets, if G7 leaders decide to sanction Japan. Forbes reports:

“The G7 is no longer willing to allow the yen weakness to continue as Japan does not require a weak currency given the growth/inflation outlook.”

Read More: Yen surges on confirmation G7 will discuss currency

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China and Japan discuss currency appreciation

Sep. 10th 2006

For the first time, officials from China’s Central Bank will meet publicly with their counterparts in Japan, a nation that knows a thing or two about currency appreciation. Over 20 years ago, the world’s industrialized nations signed the Plaza Accord Agreement, which laid out a plan for devaluation of the USD against the Japanese Yen. The purpose of the agreement was to help the US stem its current account deficit and simultaneously emerge from an economic recession. [Note the similar circumstances which currently surround the attempt by the US to depreciate the USD against the Yuan.] Anyway, the result of the agreement was a Japanese recession, and ultimately, an asset price bubble which continues to plague Japan to this day. Chinese officials hope to learn from Japan’s travails and avert a similar economic implosion.

Read More: China seeks to learn from mistakes of 1985 Plaza Accord

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Speculators get burned by carry-trade

Sep. 5th 2006

Two weeks ago, I reported that the carry trade would soon come to an end, and traders would have to develop alternative strategies in order to continue profiting in forex markets. While interest rate differentials still remain sizable, it seems traders are finally beginning to take heed of this message by building future rate changes into their models. Japanese interest rates remain effectively negative, but a spate of recent data indicated that Japan’s economy has recovered from its multi-year recession. The Yen has sunk to a 20 year low in real terms, and the only place it can go is up. Those who continue to rest on carry trading risk getting burned. The Financial Times reports:

[The data] did not alter the prognosis for Japanese rates, which are still expected to remain unchanged when the BoJ meets this week – but it derailed the carry trade, as attempts to short the yen were by this point wildly overdone.

Read More: The Short View: Risk appetite

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Carry trade continues to dampen Yen

Aug. 28th 2006

The Yen continues to take a beating from currency traders, who seem intent on wringing profits out of the Japanese currency before the Central Bank raises interest rates. Two weeks ago, I reported that the carry trade would soon lose steam as central banks around the world hike rates and interest rate differentials begin to narrow. However, Japan’s Central Bank has assured investors that any monetary tightening will be implemented gradually, in order to avoid a rapid Yen appreciation. As a result, investors seem confident that the carry trade remains a safe bet in the short term. If the Yen contineus to depreciate, and real interest rates remain negative, such investors will look pretty savvy. Bloomberg News reports:

Investors are using the so-called carry trade to borrow yen at rates barely above zero percent and use the money to speculate in the markets where central bank rates are as much as 14.5 percentage points higher.

Read More: Yen Slumps Most in Nine Months as Interest-Rate Trades Resume

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US automakers accuse Japan of currency manipulation

Aug. 9th 2006

This week, Japanese automakers reported strong earnings for the latest quarter, and American trade groups are furious. If you remember, American automakers have been complaining for the better part of this year that the Japanese government is depressing the value of the Yen in order to make Japanese exports more competitive. When confronted with the fact that the Bank of Japan has not officially intervened on behalf of the Yen since 2004, the automakers respond that the government continues to threaten intervention in the event that the Yen actually appreciates. This is tantamount to currency manipulation, they argue, because traders are reluctant to bid up the value of the Yen lest the government actually intervene to force it back down. Reuters reports:

“Every time the yen starts to move in a substantial way, ‘Japan Inc.’ and the Japanese finance minister roll out thundering noises” discouraging currency traders from betting on a stronger yen.

Read More: US automakers say Japan profits fueled by cheap yen

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China Raises Reserve Requirement

Jul. 21st 2006

Earlier today, China announced that the minimum amount that banks must place with the central bank will be increased by 0.5% beginning August 15. This reserve requirement increase caused the yen to reach its one-week high against the USD. It came as a disappointment to Washington however that there was no further discussion of yuan flexibility, but it is likely that this debate will heat up in the coming weeks and months. Forbes reports:

Bank of New York currency analyst Neil Mellor noted that Ba Shusong, an influential government economist said today that China needs to widen the yuan’s trading band to help control excess liquidity.

A further widening of the trading band ‘could easily come within the next few weeks,’ Mellor reckoned.

Read more: Yen gains against dollar as China raises reserve requirement

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Yen Rises on Eve of BoJ Meeting

Jul. 13th 2006

Tomorrow, the Bank of Japan will meet, and it is expected that they will raise the interest rate in Japan to 0.25%. Such an occurence would mark the first time in five years that the interest rate was above zero. Yesterday, the US dollar rose to a six-day high of 115.73 yen in response to the expected rate hike. According to Life Style Extra:

‘The recent spike higher in dollar/yen provides a new opportunity for playing future yen strength as interest rate differentials narrow, the economy remains strong and the current account surplus provides a happy contrast to structural deficiencies in the US,’ [Daragh Maher of CALYON] said.

Read more: Yen rises ahead of BoJ meeting tomorrow

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Laws of Economics may soon catch up with Dollar

Apr. 7th 2006

This year, the US current account deficit is projected to reach $800 Billion, an astounding 7% of GDP. If current trends continue, the deficit will jump to 13% of GDP by the end of the decade. Moreover, this year will probably mark the first ever that the net US return on foreign investment will be less than the money earned by foreigners on US investments. For this trend to be reversed will require a massive depreciation in the value of the USD. Unfortunately the US is tightening monetary policy at a faster rate than the rest of the developed world, which renders such a reversal unlikely. The Economist reports:

Not only is the yen relatively weak in nominal terms, but falling prices in Japan have made it even more competitive.

Read More: The Yen also Rises

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Capital flows data buoys Yen

Mar. 27th 2006

The most recent data on Japanese capital flows paints a picture of increasing repatriation of Japanese capital. In other words, Japanese people and businesses are divesting from overseas assets and parking their money in Japanese securities. Analysts have offered a couple explanations for this trend. First, yields on Japanese bonds have been growing as the Central Bank prepares to lift interest rates, and Japanese equities are approaching valuations left unseen for years. Perhaps, notoriously conservative Japanese investors are growing more confident in the strength of domestic asset markets. Second, and equally plausible, is that Japanese companies are repatriating profits earned overseas for tax purposes. Either way, the Yen will benefit. The Financial Times reports:

Data released on Friday by Japan’s Ministry of Finance revealed that Japanese investors sold a net Y1,480bn of foreign assets in the week to March 17, a six-fold increase on the week before.

Read More: Yen rallies on year-end repatriation flows

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Japan to allow Yen to appreciate

Mar. 20th 2006

This week will end the second consecutive year in which Japan’s Ministry of Finance has abstained from intervening in forex markets. This is noteworthy, perhaps, in light of the fact that the Yen is poised to begin appreciating, on the heels of Japanese rate hikes. Most analysts do not expect the Bank of Japan to intervene if the Yen does begin to rise, because Japan’s economy appears to be in good shape. Several years ago, when the Bank of Japan spent over $300 Billion to prevent the Yen from rising, Japan’s economy was still fragile and forex intervention could be more easily justified. The Standard reports:

Japanese officials say there is no change in their standard refrain that currencies should stay in line with economic fundamentals, and movements should not become too volatile.

Read More: Tokyo tipped to let yen rise

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Bank of Japan to tighten monetary policy

Mar. 17th 2006

The consensus among economists is that Japan has clearly emerged from a decade-long recession, which is a conclusion predicated on a bevy of economic data. The Bank of Japan is now in the unenviable position of having to raise interest rates to head off possible inflation, without shocking the economy back into recession. In a recent poll, a majority of economists indicated their belief that the rate hikes will be effected before the end of the year. While the Yen may not derive direct support from the rate hikes, it will likely benefit from an inevitable decline in carry trades, in which currency traders borrow Japanese Yen to finance purchases of other currencies. Reuters reports:

“Japanese rates are still going to remain extremely low – below 2 percent next year — and it will still be the lowest, notwithstanding the Swiss franc.”

Read More: BoJ change to ripple, not rock, through markets

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Excitement fades for Japanese rate hikes

Mar. 1st 2006

In the last few months, a whole host of economic indicators have confirmed both that the Japanese economy is on solid footing and that the era of deflation has finally passed. Accordingly, many economists and analysts predicted that Japan would soon end its ultra loose monetary policy where real interest rates where kept below zero. In the last few days, however, currency traders have been working overtime to rid their models lofty rate hike expectations. The cause of the uncertainty has been the Bank of Japan, itself, which has insisted that it will continue to hold short term interest rates to below .1%, and long term rates to a proportionately low level. The Financial Times reports:

Reports suggested the BoJ will continue to pump liquidity into the economy by buying Y1,200bn worth of government bonds a month to keep long-term rates capped. “This would help…reduce market turmoil, including speculative yen buying.”

Read More: Yen falls on dovish rate talk

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Japanese Yen benefits from rate hike rumors

Feb. 27th 2006

According to a variety of economic indicators, Japan is now the fastest growing economy in the G8 Industrialized countries. Further, it seems Japan has definitively succeeded in ending a decade-long deflationary spiral, during which its nominal GDP declined. Japanese economists have hinted that the Bank of Japan may soon end its ultra-loose monetary policy. This move, which will take the form of higher interest rates, has even received the support of Japanese politicians, who previously seemed ambivalent. While the rate hikes will not occur for a couple of months, currency traders are already beginning to buy Yen based on the prospect of a narrowing interest rate differential between Japan and the rest of the developed world.

Read More: Policy hope propels yen’s rally

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US auto makers continue to point fingers

Feb. 21st 2006

A few weeks ago, the Bank of Japan released official data that indicated it had not intervened in forex markets in over 18 months. It was expected that this data would exonerate Japan from the accusations of American auto makers, who insisted Japan was artificially holding down the value of the Yen. Sure enough, representatives from these auto makers have backed away from their claims of forex intervention, arguing instead that the bank’s threat of intervention is tantamount to actual intervention. It has also begun to shift some of its attention to Korea, where the Central Bank routinely intervenes to hold down the value of the Won. United Press International reports:

Despite strong economic growth, over the past five years Japan’s currency has been undervalued by as much as 36 percent against the dollar. This means a car imported from Japan has had an unfair subsidized cost advantage over U.S. cars.

Read More: Outside View: U.S. cars need Bush’s help

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Japanese rate hikes become more likely

Feb. 17th 2006

Earlier this week, Japan released a slew of economic data, all of which underscore the likelihood of future rate hikes by the Bank of Japan. First, Japan announced that annualized GDP growth for Q4 exceeded 5.5%, which exceeded growth in both the US and EU. Further, Japanese prices increased by 1.6% on an annualized basis, which indicates Japan seems to have finally escaped from the throes of deflation. If growth and inflation numbers continue to exceed expectations, you can assume Japan will begin raising rates by the end of this year. Currency traders are already beginning to build models around such interest rate hikes, all of which favor the Yen.

Read More: Yen tumbles on fresh deflation fear

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Japanese Yen benefits from rate hike speculation

Feb. 11th 2006

As evidence that Japan has emerged from recession continues to mount, economists and analysts have begun to speculate that the country’s Central Bank will raise rates from their current level of zero. According to the most recent inflation data, Japanese prices have increased for two consecutive months, a feat that had not occurred in nearly a decade. Governors from the Bank of Japan, have themselves hinted that it may be time to stop pumping liquidity into the Japanese economy via an ultra-loose monetary policy. As a result, the consensus is that Japan will begin raising interest rates at the end of this year. Yen bulls have reacted to the prospect of rate hikes with veritable jubilation, arguing that higher interest rates would surely translate into Yen appreciation. The Financial Times reports:

Although the BoJ is not expected to end its zero interest rate policy until next year, any pre-emptive rise in borrowing costs could reduce the use of the yen as a funding currency for the infamous carry trade. This would allow the currency, which most strategists view as undervalued on a fundamental basis, to appreciate.

Read More: Yen climbs on hopes of BOJ policy shift

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Traders raise possibility of Yen short-squeeze

Feb. 8th 2006

Currency traders have had veritable months to mull the widening interest rate differential between Japan (where interest rates have remained effectively negative for several years) and the rest of the developed world. Accordingly, many traders have turned to technical analysis in order to gauge sentiment surrounding the Yen. The consensus, which is supported by data, indicates the Yen has been heavily sold short, as institutional and retail investors, alike, have bet against the Japanese currency. While this might suggest the Yen is due to fall, many analysts have reached the opposite conclusion. Basically, many retail investors have leveraged their positions to the degree that any Yen appreciation would force them to quickly buy Yen to cover their positions, resulting in a so-called “short squeeze.” If thousands of traders bought to cover en masse, this would likely feed back into the Yen causing an even larger appreciation. The Financial Times reports:

Trader data released on Friday showed a huge jump in short-yen positions to 43,126 in the week ending January 31, from just 8,839 a week earlier. This would have provided significant fuel for a yen bounce once an initial move higher had been made.

Read More: FX markets focus on fate of yen

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Japan refrains from forex intervention

Feb. 6th 2006

According to the most recent financial data, the Central Bank Japan has stayed out of currency markets for 22 consecutive months. If this is indeed true, the implications are potentially far-reaching, as accusations of intervention have reached fever pitch in the US. In the last few weeks, several prominent American manufacturers have publicly insisted that Japan’s Central Bank is helping Japanese exporters by intervening in forex markets to hold down the value of the Yen. However, Japan’s innocence has been borne out by a slew of data, which suggest that the value of the Yen is consistent with economic fundamentals.

Read More: Japan stays out of currency markets in January for record 22nd month+

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Yen falls on interest rate expectations

Feb. 2nd 2006

For several years, real interest rates in Japan have remained effectively negative, allowing those who were creditworthy to borrow enormous sums of money at improbably low rates. It was hoped that the extremely loose monetary policy would stimulate the Japanese economy, by encouraging consumers and businesses to borrow money towards consumption and investment, respectively. While the Japanese economy is finally beginning to show signs of life, and the risk of deflation is waning, Japan’s Central Bank still appears unwilling to lift interest rates. In a recent press conference, representatives from the bank indicated that it would first need to see strong evidence of economic growth and inflation before it would even consider raising interest rates. The news sent a shiver through currency markets, as traders priced in the possibility that interest rates would remain low for a while longer. The Financial Times reports:

Steven Pearson, chief currency strategist at HBOS, saw signs of rising inflation expectations, with the BoJ likely to fall behind the curve. In this environment he saw Japanese retail investors continuing to buy gold, selling yen in the process.

Read More: Yen slides on monetary policy fears

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Chrysler CEO suggests forex intervention

Jan. 24th 2006

Over the past few months, there has been a back-and-forth between US trade lobbyists (mostly representing US automobile manufacturers) and Japan’s Central Bank. Specifically, US corporations have accused Japan’s Central Bank of repeated intervention in forex markets, designed to hold down the value of the Japanese Yen. The latest chapter in this saga unfolded yesterday, when the CEO of Daimler Chrysler suggested that the US match the efforts of Japan by intervening in forex markets and artificially depress the Dollar. Rick Wagoner, CEO of GM, recently expressed similar sentiments. Japan’s response to these allegations has been to proclaim its innocence. For almost two years, Japan has refrained from intervention, a fact that has since been verified by official data. The Associated Press reports:

“The Japanese Central Bank intervenes in currency markets to keep the yen cheap and to create an advantage for its industry. Why doesn’t our government do the same for us?” LaSorda [CEO of Chrysler] said.

Read More: Chrysler CEO suggests U.S. could intervene in currency markets

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Japanese Yen, Politics & Policy | 1 Comment »

Japanese stock market may favor USD

Jan. 18th 2006

In the last week, the Japanese stock market witnessed a massive ‘correction,’ as the Nikkei Index fell by almost 10%. Accordingly, many reckon the markets’ year-long strength may be coming to an end, and are warning against the possibility of investors removing their capital and transferring it to other countries, namely the US. In the last month, US capital inflows far exceeded the current account deficit, which can be attributed to continued faith in US capital markets. Analysts have cautioned, however, that the USD could depreciate if foreigners suddenly lose their appetite for investing in the US. The Financial Times reports:

[One economist] warned he “feared the worst for the dollar” if yield differentials were to become more attractive elsewhere. Another bearish factor for the dollar would be if equity weakness lowered expectations for further tightening, he added.

Read More: Yen shrugs off plummeting Nikkei

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Interest rate differentials weigh on Yen

Jan. 10th 2006

While currency traders often discuss interest rate differentials in the context of the USD and Euro, the concept is more closely tied to movements of the Yen. Japanese interest rates remain at depressed levels; the annual yield on Japan’s 10 Year note is currently 1.3%, a full 3 percentage points below the US equivalent. Accordingly, Japanese investors continue to pour money into foreign assets, where yields are significantly higher. This may prove increasingly problematic for the Yen, as Japanese corporations and individuals have suddenly found themselves with more cash to invest, due to the recovery of Japan’s economy. That they are investing profits and savings, respectively, into foreign securities rather than into their home economy, is not a good sign for the Yen. Bloomberg News reports:

Japanese investors bought 16.6 trillion yen ($145 billion overseas assets last year, according to figures based on reports released by the Ministry of Finance.

Read More: Yen Drops on Speculation Japanese Investors Seeking Higher Returns Abroad

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Japan continues to avoid forex intervention

Jan. 2nd 2006

For the last few months, several American trade lobbyists have publicly accused Japan of calculated intervention in forex markets aimed at holding down the value of the Japanese Yen. Japan’s repeated declaration that these claims were groundless and untrue was born out recently by Japan’s Ministry of Finance. Data indicates that from January 2003 until April 2004, Japan spent almost $350 Billion USD to slow the appreciation of the Yen by purchasing USD on the open market. Since April 2004, however, Japan has refrained from any intervention, which means its current value (to the chagrin of American trade groups) reflects market fundamentals. AFX News Limited reports:

The absence of dollar-buying and yen-selling via the Bank of Japan was attributed to the orderly reversal of the dollar’s weakness, reflecting the stronger fundamentals of the US economy compared with that of Japan.

Read More: Japan says it kept out of currency markets in 2005

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Japanese officials criticized for Yen policy

Dec. 20th 2005

In the last few weeks, the Japanese Yen has appreciated 4% against the USD, prompting officials from Japan’s Ministry of Finance to declare that they will be monitoring the Yen closely for unnatural fluctuations. The announcement was widely interpreted as a hint that the Ministry would intervene in forex markets and prevent the Yen from appreciating further. American industry lobbyists, in turn, responded with a show of outrage, urging US trade officials to prevent Japan from tampering with the value of the Yen. The Jiji Press reports:

Noting that Japan for years has massively intervened in currency markets to keep the value of the yen “artificially low,” he said, “Japan’s currency manipulation is a serious and damaging unfair trade practice that is causing permanent harm to the industrial core of the U.S. economy.”

Read More: U.S. Auto Official Raps Japan for Trying to Stop Yen Rise

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US Trade Groups upset over Yen

Dec. 7th 2005

As the Yen continues its 3-year slide against the USD, many American trade groups are beginning to cry foul, claiming Japan has taken steps to artificially depress its currency. At $842 Billion, the Bank of Japan’s foreign exchange reserves are currently the largest in the world. Some American firms believe this is a consequence of calculated intervention in forex markets- buying massive amounts of USD denominated assets in order to hold down the Yen and make Japanese exports seem more attractive. For the record, Japan insists that the Yen’s current value is the product of market forces. Not persuaded, American trade groups have begun lobbying the US Treasury Department to shift its attention away from China, and begin pressuring Japan to allow the Yen to appreciate. Reuters News reports:

“There is no excuse for the G7 to get together and sit around talking about China when the currency imbalances and Japan’s policy of strongly encouraging that isn’t even discussed.”

Read More: Trade groups at odds over yen tactics

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Japanese Yen, Politics & Policy | No Comments »

Japanese Yen “in line with fundamentals”

Dec. 5th 2005

In a recent interview, the Finance Minister of Japan shrugged off claims that the Yen was undervalued and stated his conviction that the currency is consistent with Japan’s current economic situation. Japan’s economy has performed well in recent quarters, spurred by an increase in exports, which were in turn driven by a weak Yen. An influx in foreign capital has buoyed Japanese equities, and the Bank of Japan is currently mulling an interest rate hike. Meanwhile, the USD is moving towards a 3-year high against the Yen, and currency traders and economists, alike, are laboring to reconcile the increasingly positive outlook for Japan’s economy with the dismal performance of the Yen. The Japan Times reports:

Kaoru Yosano, economic and fiscal policy minister, separately said the dollar’s surge was not so much due to economic fundamentals as to the fact that long-term interest rates are significantly higher — and climbing — in the United States.

Read More: Weak yen OK, reflects state of economy, Tanigaki figures

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Korean Won likely to fade in 2006

Dec. 3rd 2005

In the last year, the Korean Won has soared against the USD, while the USD, in turn, has appreciated significantly against the Japanese Yen. In line with the laws of triangular arbitrage, the Korean Won has pummeled the Japanese Yen, appreciating over 30% in less than two years. As a result, Korean exporters are having extreme difficulty competing with their Japanese counterparts. While economic fundamentals still seem to support Won strength, a Japanese trade surplus should soon force the Yen back up. In addition, we could see South Korea’s Central Bank intervene in forex markets in order to hold down its currency. The Korean Herald reports:

Along with the wider liberalization of the foreign currency market, a shift in the fresh global capital inflow into the European Union and Japan away from the emerging markets is expected to put downward pressure on the won next year.

Read More: Decoupling of won from yen seen easing in 2006

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LDP attempts to reassert control over Japanese monetary policy

Nov. 17th 2005

This week, Japan witnessed a feud with potentially far-reaching implications, as the Bank of Japan argued with LDP politicians over who has control of Japanese monetary policy. The spat began, when the Bank of Japan hinted publicly that it would like to reassert its independence in matters of monetary policy and hike interest rates. The announcement worried Japanese politicians for a couple of reasons. First, the popularity of the ruling LDP is closely tied to the performance of Japan’s economy; accordingly, LDP politicians want to be certain the economy is on solid footing before they adjust interest rates. Second, Japan has run massive fiscal deficits in recent years, and higher interest rates would raise the government’s cost of borrowing. Yen bulls should monitor this situation closely, for a hike in Japanese interest rates could provide an impetus for the Yen to reverse its systemic decline.

Read More: Japan’s Divided Policymakers

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Japanese quarrel over monetary policy

Nov. 14th 2005

It is expected this quarter will marl the fourth consecutive of increasing economic growth in Japan. Accordingly, economists no longer believe deflation represents a threat; in fact, most economists are predicting core price inflation will exceed .5% this year. Japanese central bankers have responded to the prospect of rising inflation by suggesting an increase in short term interest rates, which are currently 0%. In Japan, however, the political establishment has just as much control in setting monetary policy as the Central Bank. In this case, Japanese politicians would like to make sure the Japanese economy is on solid footing before interest rates are hiked. Currency traders have not responded favorably to a prolonged period of easy money, as evidenced by the Yen’s continued decline. The Financial Times reports:

[One economist] believes year-on-year Japanese inflation is about to turn positive, as sharp falls in the price of mobile phones, electrical items and rice a year ago drop off the index. However, with the sustainability of this trend in doubt, he sees rates remaining at, or very close to, zero until April 2007 at the earliest.

Read More: Yen falls on battle over monetary policy

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USD continues to outperform Asian currencies

Nov. 3rd 2005

The USD has risen to a 25-month high against the Japanese Yen, including a 14% increase in this year alone. The Japanese economy has begun to show signs of life; its capital markets have performed those in the US, and Japan continues to run a massive current account surplus with the US. Hence, the USD’s continued appreciation against the Japanese Yen, and many other Asian currencies, has forex traders scratching their heads. Economists have turned to data on international capital flows in attempting to explain the weakness of Asian currencies. They believe rising US interest rates combined with the perceived stability of US capital markets are driving risk-averse investors, especially those in Asia, to shift capital into the US, which has generated massive demand for USD. The Wall Street Journal reports:

During the first eight months of this year, Japanese investors have poured $126 Billion into foreign stocks and bonds, up 19% from the same period last year.

Read More: No (Dollar) Gain without Pain

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Economic Indicators, Japanese Yen, US Dollar | No Comments »

Bank of Japan to end monetary tightening

Sep. 30th 2005

The Japanese Yen has not performed well against most currencies so far this year. Recently, however, the Japanese economy has shown signs of life and the Japanese government now seems committed to making certain structural reforms, which should further spur growth. In response, the Bank of Japan has hinted that as soon as it can be validated that the economy is on solid footing, it will begin raising interest rates, ending a period of negative real interest rates. This, in turn, should stem the Yen’s decline against the USD. Forexnews.com reports:

Looking forward, the looming end of the Bank of Japan’s quantitative easing by Q1 2006 coupled with and an eventual subsequent yuan revaluation against the US dollar, explains our medium-term yen bullish position, with 108 by year-end and 103 by end of Q1.

Read More: How Much More for the Yen?

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New report defends Asian forex reserves

Sep. 21st 2005

Two prominent economists recently conducted a thorough analysis of Asia’s increasing foreign exchange reserves, the majority of which are held in US Treasury Securities, which are of course denominated min USD. The economists argue that the while the collective forex reserves of Asian nations have indeed skyrocketed in recent years, this does not necessarily signify that outright currency manipulation is taking place. Rather, they believe that these nations use their reserves as tools of monetary policy. For example, Japan may have grown its reserves to try to mitigate the possibility of deflation. Other nations view their reserves as a sort of contingency, to be used if the 1997 Southeast Asian economic crisis (which caused regional currency depreciation) repeats itself. China’s increasing reserves, argue the study’s authors, are largely a product of ‘hot money’ inflows, rather than a proactive attempt by China to hold down its currency. The Economist reports:

It is hard to accuse China of running a cheap-currency policy, since it passed up an opportunity to devalue the yuan at the time of the Asian crisis.

Read More: Asian squirrels

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Koizumi wins landslide victory

Sep. 13th 2005

In a startling development, Junichiro Koizumi, Prime Minister of Japan, was overwhelmingly backed in the elections held over the weekend. Koizumi had called for the election after his bid to privatize Japan Post failed to pass in Japan’s Parliament, which was summarily dissolved. In a show of solidarity, Japanese voters have given Koizumi the power to make sweeping political changes and implement structural economic reforms. By coincidence, the election coincided with the release of certain economic data, which indicated Japan is now growing at a healthy 3.3%. It seems Japan’s economy is finally on solid footing, which certainly bodes well for the Yen. The Economist reports:

Investors also applauded revised economic figures that were released on the same day, showing that GDP grew at an annual rate of 3.3%, more than previously announced, in the second quarter.

Read More: Japan’s voters back Koizumi

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Japanese Yen, Politics & Policy | No Comments »

Support for Koziumi underscores Yen strength

Aug. 23rd 2005

When Junichiro Koizumi, Prime Minister of Japan, failed to receive the support of the legislature in his bid to privatize Japan Post, he immediately called for a snap election. On September 11, voters must decide whether to grant Koizumi more power in liberalizing Japan’s economy, as well as the authority to trim government spending and public debt. While polls indicate 50% of Japanese currently support Koizumi, many investors are much more bullish, going so far as to price a Koizumi victory into markets. Investors believe the Japanese economy would surely benefit from such a victory, as would the Japanese Yen. Bloomberg News reports:

Demand for the yen may increase on speculation an election win will give Koizumi more power to push through policies to bolster the economy.

Read More: Yen May Gain After Second Poll Shows Koizumi’s Rating Increases

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Japanese Yen, Politics & Policy | No Comments »

Mixed outlook for Yen

Aug. 18th 2005

The IMF recently released a much-anticipated report on Japan’s economic prospects. The report was overwhelmingly positive, forecasting growth of 1.8%, compared to 2.4% last year. At the moment, inflation appears to be negative, meaning Japan’s Central Bank is not likely to raise interest rates anytime soon. On the political front, Prime Minister Koizumi has failed in his quest to privatize Japan Post, despite drawing wide international praise for his efforts. As a result, Koizumi has called for a snap election to be held in the not-too-distant future. The implications vis-à-vis the Japanese Yen are ambiguous. While Japan’s economic future is bright, its political future is uncertain. Stuff New Zealand reports:

Some directors said intervention could be a last resort if the yen rose high enough to threaten the economy while most others said the economy was in better shape to handle a stronger currency, which can make it tougher for a country’s exporters to compete.

Read More: IMF gives Japan’s economy short-term tick

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Bloomberg Survey shows Yen strength

Aug. 1st 2005

Bloomberg news recently conducted a survey, asking professional currency traders to gauge their sentiments on various currencies. While there was tremendous variation in the results, a majority of traders admitted optimism in the Yen. A Citigroup analyst opined that bearish sentiment on the Yen had reached ‘extreme’ levels, and he was now advising clients to take positive positions. Other analysts agreed, noting renewed confidence in Japan’s economy. However, many were careful to note that the failed privatization of Japan Post would not be good for the Yen. Japanese lawmakers are set to vote on the bill by August 5th.

Read the full results of the survey

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Yen tied to Koizumi

Jul. 28th 2005

In the short-term, reckon analysts, the Japanese Yen will hinge on the actions of Japan’s Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi. The reason is Koizumi is currently pushing for the modernization of Japan Post, which not only manages Japan’s postal system but also represents the world’s largest savings bank. Koizumi is so adamant that the bill passed, that he has threatened political upheaval should it fail. Some analysts feel Japan Post will likely be privatized, despite the uproar surrounding it, while others put the odds closer to 50:50. While analysts disagree over the bill’s likelihood of success, all agree that the situation will continue to dictate the movement of the Yen. The Financial Times reports:

“It remains close, and markets dislike uncertainty, so with the data calendar light for now, the yen may face further downward pressure,” said a senior forex strategist. However a number of analysts pointed to the scope for the yen to rally if the bill is passed.

Read More: Yen slides on renewed Koizumi doubts

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Yen falls on political uncertainty

Jul. 20th 2005

The Japanese Yen is looking especially perilous, due to increasing political uncertainty.  Junichiro Koizumi, Japan’s Prime Minister, has undertaken an effort to privatize Japan-Post, which among other things, is the world’s largest savings bank. Unfortunately for Koizumi, there are several prominent Japanese politicians who are opposed to the move, on the grounds it may result in job losses.  Koizumi’s administration has witnessed growth, albeit miniscule, in Japan’s economy, following a decade-long recession. As a result, investors and traders are not reacting positively to the potential rejection of Koizumi’s proposal. A senior Japanese politician and Koizumi supporter suggested such a rejection would have a significant impact on asset and currency markets. Bloomberg news reports:

“Koizumi has been a source of stability after a decade of economic turmoil in Japan,” said a [senior economist].  “Investors like stability. The prospect of removing that stability would not be good for the yen.”

Read More: Yen Touches 14-Month Low Against Dollar, Tumbles Versus Euro

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New bill would punish currency manipulators

Jul. 6th 2005

US Representative John Dingell has introduced a bill that addresses currency manipulation. Specifically, the bill would require any nations that enter into future trade agreements with the US to permit their currencies to float. Currently, a number of countries, mainly in Southeast Asia, either explicitly peg their currencies to the USD or intervene in forex markets to prevent their domestic currencies from significantly fluctuating. Dingell has argued currency manipulation is tantamount to a trade subsidy or tax break, as a nation’s goods and services are made artificially cheap by an undervalued exchange rate.  He cited China and Japan as serial currency manipulators who have hamstrung many American firms. The Detroit Free Press reports:

Dingell’s bill would apply to all countries that trade with the United States by requiring the free trading of currencies as an objective for every new trade agreement. The bill also would require the administration to report on currency manipulations to Congress and seek compensation for harmed industries.

Read More: Dingell opposes currency manipulation

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Japan’s trade surplus shrinks

Jun. 22nd 2005

New data indicates Japan’s trade surplus is declining, which spells trouble for the recession-prone economy.  On a monthly basis, Japan’s May trade surplus was $2.7 Billion, down 68% from the previous year.  Most economists had forecasted a decline of 5-10%.  The impact of this development on Japan’s economy remains to be seen.  Japan has just begin to emerge from its 4th recession in 15 years, and is still heavily dependent on exports to drive economic growth.  Furthermore, Japan is counting on a revaluation of the Chinese Yuan to spur trade with its Asian neighbor, but there are no guarantees if and when this move will occur.  Predictably, the Yen is losing value against most major currencies, as investors weigh the implications of the trade data. Bloomberg news reports:

“People have been buying the yen because of it’s healthy surpluses, and now it looks like they’re shrinking,” said a senior HSBC currency strategist.  “I’d be skeptical of buying the yen at these levels.”

Read More: Yen Declines Against Dollar as Japan’s Trade Surplus Narrows

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