Monday April 15, 2013 - 17:00:43 GMT
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Forex - US Treasury Watching Japan on Yen Policy
US Treasury Watching Japan on Yen Policy
Friday's yen rally on the US Treasury biannual FX report to Congress was surprising to see in light of the rather clear protest the US Treasury launched ahead of the February G7/G20 meetings (G7 by phone and G20 in Moscow just few days later). At the time US Treasury's Undersecretary for International Affairs Brainard spoke to the press and laid out the case for acceptable conditions for Japan's policy and yen weakness. What Brainard was unhappy with was the deliberate "talking down of the yen" by the Abe administration and signals from senior government officials that the new asset purchase program the BOJ was being asked to pursue (by Abe and the LDP government) may include using foreign bond purchases to expand its balance sheet. Well G7 issued a statement post conference call that established support for measures by central banks and governments that are aimed at supporting growth through domestic measures only and there would be no tolerance for using verbal intervention (or unilateral intervention) to weaken one's currency. Well Abe dropped any notion of buying foreign bonds by the BOJ (which likely needed a change in the laws governing the BOJ) and the BOJ took aggressive QE step earlier this month to address economic weakness. The fact that the yen weakened in response to new BOJ Governor Kuroda's massive version of QE is not a problem for US Treasury as it falls under the G7 statement of taking steps to support the economy via domestic measures. If the yen happens to weaken as a result of the BOJ easing, then this is not considered manipulation or action aimed at supporting the economy directly through external measures. The problem here is one country's domestic measure is another's external measure - one can imagine at G20 in Washington later this week not all officials attending will be so understanding (Korea, Germany where auto sales are at stake and Korea where electronics are at stake in addition to autos). That said I do not anticipate US Treasury will press Japan on yen weakness - think it sees the cost of lower yen is far less than the benefit of massive QE aimed mainly at supporting domestic economic activity and does not involve external measures. Not sure what if anything was particularly new in the US Treasury FX report regarding Japan. In terms of monitoring Japan's policies ahead - goes without saying and implies any future resorting to loose lipping for a lower yen will be criticized as manipulation while there is no tolerance for official purchases of foreign instruments to grow one's balance sheet.
A more immediate risk for the short yen trade ahead is this week's weekly portfolio data MOF publishes which should give market participants some hint of changes in portfolio flows by Japanese investors in wake of the April 4 QE policy announcement by the BOJ. FY-end repatriation should drop out, and get full week in new FY calendar for first time. History tells me don't expect much - the risk is the market is expecting too much - as Japanese institutional investors take time to make new FY allocation decisions and months to implement them. They typically do not move suddenly, even in the face of a very significant policy change. So if it wasn't Japanese names selling the yen since April 4, who is selling yen? Everyone else - real and leveraged global asset managers. I still think the yen has lots of room to fall. I just worry that this week is setting up for disappointment and higher yen. Also in light of the slump in gold and commodity prices generally, risk off could drive the market to cover more of the short yen trade.
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