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from Breakingviews:

Weak yen makes Japanese electronics firms giddy

By Peter Thal Larsen

(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Japan's assault on the yen has produced some clear winners: investors in the country's beaten-up consumer electronics industry. Shares in Panasonic jumped 17 percent on Feb. 4 after the group reported a less-severe-than-expected quarterly loss. The hope is that stronger exports and recent cost-cutting will transform earnings. But with revenue still shrinking, the recent rally is largely based on hope.

Panasonic's cost-cutting measures are clearly beginning to have an effect. Though revenue fell 8 percent year-on-year in the three months to December, the company reported an operating profit of 34.6 billion yen ($370 million), compared with an operating loss in the same period a year earlier. Sharp, an even more troubled rival, also managed to eke out a small operating profit.

Investors may hope that the weaker yen may boost demand from overseas while making Japanese products at home more attractive relative to pricier imports. Any improvement in sales would have an immediate effect on the bottom line: high costs and an inflexible workforce means that Japanese companies have the highest operating leverage in the world, according to Deutsche Bank. That helps explain why Thomson Reuters' Japanese electronics index is up almost 70 percent since mid-November.

from Breakingviews:

Japan helps Nomura put a bad year behind it

By John Foley

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Who wants to be a global investment bank anyway? Not Nomura. The Japanese financial group delivered a solid quarter-on-quarter boost in underlying pre-tax profit in the final three months of 2012, driven largely by a recovery in its home market. Last year’s insider trading scandal and subsequent resignations punctured the global dreams Nomura was pursuing when it bought parts of bankrupt Lehman Brothers in 2008. For investors, that may be no bad thing.

from Global Investing:

Hyundai hits a roadbump

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The issue of the falling yen is focusing many minds these days, nowhere more than in South Korea where exporters of goods such as cars and electronics often compete closely with their Japanese counterparts. These companies got a powerful reminder today of the danger in which they stand -- quarterly profits from Hyundai fell sharply in the last quarter of 2012.  (See here to read what we wrote about this topic last week)

Korea's won currency has been strong against the dollar too, gaining 8 percent to the greenback last year. In the meantime the yen fell 16 percent against the dollar in 2012 and is expected to weaken further. Analysts at Morgan Stanley pointed out in a recent note that since June 2012, Korean stocks have underperformed Japan, corresponding to the yen's 22 percent depreciation in this period. Their graphic below shows that the biggest underperformers were consumer discretionary stocks (a category which includes auto and electronics manufacturers). Incidentally, Hyundai along with Samsung, makes up a fifth of the Seoul market's capitalisation.

from Breakingviews:

South Korea may need a rate cut to fight weak yen

By Andy Mukherjee

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Japan’s weak yen policy could be South Korea’s biggest economic enemy this year. The strengthening won, which has risen 23 percent against the yen in the past six months, was partly to blame for the country’s anaemic GDP growth in the fourth quarter. It’s also putting the squeeze on manufacturers like Hyundai. Lower interest rates could help to ease the pressure.

from Breakingviews:

BOJ must now make its bold inflation goal credible

By Andy Mukherjee

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

After more than a decade of feigning helplessness against falling prices, the Bank of Japan has finally signed up for combat duty.

from Global Investing:

Korean exporters’ yen nightmare (corrected)

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(corrects name of hedge fund in para 3 to Symphony Financial Partners)

Any doubt about the importance of a weaker yen in thawing the frozen Japanese economy will have been dispelled by the Nikkei's surge to 32-month highs this week. Since early December, when it became clear an incoming Shinzo Abe administration would do its best to weaken the yen, the equity index has surged as the yen has fallen.

Those moves are giving sleepless nights to Japan's neighbours who are watching their own currencies appreciate versus the yen. South Korean companies, in particular, from auto to electronics manufacturers, must be especially worried. They had a fine time in recent years  as the yen's strength since 2008 allowed them to gain market share overseas. But since mid-2012, the won has appreciated 22 percent versus the yen.  In this period, MSCI Korea has lagged the performance of MSCI Japan by 20 percent. Check out the following graphic from my colleague Vincent Flasseur (@ReutersFlasseur)

from MacroScope:

Trade entrails

An exercise in divination using the entrails of last week's U.S. international trade report shows signs of a move with larger implications than just the gaping deficit that caught analysts wrong-footed: the possibility of a persistent burden on the American economy caused by Japanese and German imports, like in the 80s.

The U.S. trade deficit widened 16 percent in November to $48.7 billion, the Commerce Department said on Friday, above the $41.3 billion expected. The negative surprise prompted economists to cut hastily their U.S. gross domestic product estimates for the last quarter to a negligible rate. The stock market took a hit.

from Breakingviews:

Japan’s fiscal stimulus is call for action to BOJ

By Andy Mukherjee

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Japan’s new prime minister has thrown the country’s central bank a $117 billion challenge.

from Breakingviews:

A how-to guide for Japan to escape deflation

By Andy Mukherjee

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Japan has a real chance of ending deflation. But the authorities need to act boldly. It will be hard for the Bank of Japan to dispel a decade of accumulated pessimism by merely adopting a formal inflation target. The goal of the central bank and the finance ministry should be to make people believe that price gains that didn’t occur in the past 10 years will now take place. A de facto currency peg may be the way to engineer those expectations.

from MacroScope:

Japan finally takes Bernanke-san’s advice – 10 years later

This post was based on reporting by Leika Kihara in Tokyo

Japan has crossed the monetary rubicon: the government is actively intervening in the affairs of the central bank, pressuring it to more aggressively tackle a prolonged bout of deflation and economic stagnation. The Bank of Japan is expected to discuss raising its inflation target from the current 1 percent level during its next rate decision on January 21-22.

Overnight, a Japanese newspaper reported the finance ministry and the central bank were considering signing a policy accord that would set as a common goal not just achieving 2 percent inflation but also steady job growth.

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