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Monday August 30, 2010 - 18:04:41 GMT
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Forex Blog - BOJ Takes Lead in Kabuki Theater Show Co-starring MOF...Until Tuesday (FXA)

BOJ Takes Lead in Kabuki Theater Show Co-starring MOF...Until Tuesday


There are several ways to view the BOJ’s policy easing today – none of them are good for anyone valuing central bank independence and patient monetary policy making.  Today’s marginal move (expanding the fixed rate 3-mo funding window for banks to JPY30trln from JPY20trln) was met with a giant yawn…well leaked to the press in advance and done under the theatrics of an “emergency” board meeting.  If this were the Fed and US Treasury/White House at work, the damage done to the Fed (rates, dollar and risk – sell everything) would surely be significant.  But anyone following Japanese policy making knows this time is no different and status quo does not warrant a reaction. 


Shirakawa was also quick to point out that the future setting of monetary policy would not be bound to levels for the yen or stock market.   But that us exactly what prompted the Kan government (about as low on legitimacy as any in recent history) to put the BOJ in some contorted judo move to force through an easing aimed at checking the rise in the yen.  And how sad that Japan almost always adjusts policy when the yen is hovering near record highs…where is the urgency when USDJPY traded at 95.00 and signs of deflation were everywhere? 


And this painful, particularly Japanese theater will bring more insufferable acting on Tuesday when the Kan government announces a JPY10trln in new fiscal stimulus (about $11bln)…also telegraphed to the media in advance and aimed at demonstrating to markets how “serious” the government is in checking fresh economic threats from a weaker export market (read stronger yen).   Just weeks ago both the BOJ and government were raising their monthly assessments of economic activity demonstrating again the irony in this purely Japanese stage show.


Indeed the LCD for Japanese economic policy is preventing yen appreciation.  Now into the second decade of deflation and stagnation policy makers are moved to action by the rise in the currency (and its usual mirror image, a sliding stock market). 


With markets buying yen quite aggressively soon after the BOJ news, all signs point now to unilateral currency intervention…pick a level…not sure there is much science in this but 80 seems to be the consensus view where the MOF will order BOJ intervention to start.  And expect Japan’s government (they direct currency policy and BOJ is agent that implements it) to adopt the Colin Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force…massive intervention like that seen in March 2004.  The issue ahead for Japan is how to fine the right balance (yes I am a little cynical here) between the scale of intervention and not turning off major allies in G20 as ultimately happened in Japan’s 2004 intervention orgy.  And look for China, Korea and much of Asia to have a stake in making sure Japan is not given carte blanche on weakening the yen (G20 happens Friday and Saturday in S Korea). 


At best for Japan’s efforts at checking further yen gains ahead, look for a fairly protracted period of give and take that should allow the yen to see levels in the 70’s again before markets have had enough.  Historically intervention is almost always a carrot for traders…target, liquidity (from the c bank), inexperience with the people executing the intervention and as per usual a set of determinants adding to the yen’s rise that are outside the ability of Japan’s policy makers to influence.    


David Gilmore


PS I have suggested in passing that Japan should try capital controls, though there is no reason to think this is even a remote possibility.


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