Thursday, November 26, 2009

Fujii Watching Yen Rise to 14-Year High Very Closely (Update3)

By Kyoko Shimodoi and Keiko Ujikane

Nov. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Japanese Finance Minister Hirohisa Fujii said the government is watching currencies “very closely” after the yen advanced to a 14-year high against the dollar, threatening the country’s export-led recovery.

Fujii spoke to reporters in Tokyo today after investors shrugged off remarks he made less than an hour earlier that Japan needs to “take appropriate action against abnormal movements” in foreign-exchange markets.

The comments suggest Japan is closer to stepping into currency markets for the first time in more than five years as the rising yen erodes exporters’ profits in the wake of the country’s worst postwar recession. The currency’s more than 8 percent advance over the past three months has also added to Japan’s deflationary pressure by driving import costs lower.

“The possibility of intervention has apparently increased,” said Masafumi Yamamoto, Tokyo-based chief foreign- exchange strategist at Barclays Bank Plc. “Stocks have been falling and the government declared Japan is in a deflationary state. In this environment, there’s no reason for it to tolerate a higher yen.”

The yen rose to 86.66 per dollar at 1:33 p.m. in Tokyo, after climbing to 86.53, the highest since July 1995. The Nikkei 225 Stock Average slid 0.5 percent to a four-month low.

Support for Dollar

Fujii, 77, said yesterday that the dollar’s weakness is spurring the yen’s advance. Today he said “a strong U.S. dollar is in their national interest. There is no change in our support for that.”

Manufacturers are contemplating shifting operations abroad because the yen’s gains make it costlier to run factories at home. A stronger yen would be a “huge risk” to producing autos in Japan, Nissan Motor Co. Chief Operating Officer Toshiyuki Shiga said this month.

Japanese authorities haven’t stepped into the currency market since the first three months of 2004, when it sold a record 14.8 trillion yen ($171 billion). Fujii, who assumed his post in September, spurred some of the yen’s gains by saying he opposed “easy intervention,” only later to tone down his remarks by saying Japan will act if currency moves are “abnormal or disorderly.”

Vice Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda said the government isn’t considering stepping into the currency market now, Reuters reported earlier today.

Below 85

“The chances of intervention would increase if the dollar-yen breaks below 85,” Tomoko Fujii, a foreign-exchange strategist at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch in Tokyo, wrote in a report published today. “Intervention backed by a monetary policy change is more effective than intervention without supportive monetary policy action.”

Fujii at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch said it’s unlikely that the U.S. would join Japan in stepping into foreign- exchange markets, barring a “meltdown caused by a dollar crisis.” Expectations for the Bank of Japan to add liquidity to the economy will grow should the yen’s gains “sharply” lower stock prices, hurt business sentiment and exacerbate deflation, she wrote.

The government last week said Japan was in a “mild deflationary phase.” Price declines blighted Japan during its so-called lost decade of stagnation after an asset bubble burst in the early 1990s.

Meanwhile Finance Minister Fujii said yesterday that China’s currency is probably too weak, backing calls from the U.S. and Europe to let the yuan appreciate.

“It can’t be helped that people see the yuan as undervalued given the strength of the Chinese economy,” Fujii said in an interview in Tokyo. “The yuan is pegged to the dollar. I don’t think such a situation is necessarily good.”

The remarks are Fujii’s strongest on the Chinese currency since he took office in September, adding to concerns voiced by officials including European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet this month about the yuan’s flexibility. The yuan’s peg to the dollar has sheltered China from the slide in the U.S. currency that’s making Japanese and European exports more expensive.

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