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from Breakingviews:

Japan pension debate goes beyond bonds and stocks

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By Andy Mukherjee

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

Japan’s pension reform debate is heating up. But it’s in danger of missing the wood for the trees.

University of Tokyo economist Takatoshi Ito, who headed a government-appointed panel into the management of Japan’s 200 trillion yen ($1.97 trillion) of public pension assets, has accused the giant Government Pension Investment Fund of “violating its fiduciary duty” by not slashing its allocation to domestic bonds. Ito’s broadside came after Takahiro Mitani, the GPIF’s president, suggested the government’s real objective was to pump more money into the stock market.

Both sides have a point. GPIF, which has assets of 124 trillion yen ($1.2 trillion), is at risk of losses if bond yields, which have been artificially suppressed by the Bank of Japan’s massive asset purchases, start to rise.

from Breakingviews:

SoftBank’s Alibaba stake both blessing and burden

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By Una Galani

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

SoftBank’s investment in Alibaba must be one of the most successful of all time. Billionaire chief Masayoshi Son injected just $20 million into the Chinese e-commerce giant in 2000. Today, the 36.7 percent shareholding accounts for a large chunk of Japanese group’s market value. As Alibaba heads toward an initial public offering, however, Son’s investment blessing may become a burden.

from Breakingviews:

Japan bond investors’ overseas trip may flop again

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By Andy Mukherjee 

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

Japanese bond investors’ latest overseas trip might flop, just like last summer’s foray. That’s bad news for the investors and for Tokyo’s anti-deflation campaign.

from MacroScope:

Japan-style deflation in Europe getting harder to dismiss

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To most people, the idea of falling prices sounds like a good thing. But it poses serious economic and financial risks - just ask the Japanese, who only now finally have the upper hand in a 20-year battle to drag their economy out of deflation.

That front is shifting westward, to the euro zone.

Deflation tempts consumers to postpone spending and businesses to delay investment because they expect prices to be lower in the future. This slows growth and puts upward pressure on unemployment. It also increases the real debt burden of debtors, from consumers to companies to governments.

from Ian Bremmer:

Is the China-Japan relationship ‘at its worst’?

At the Munich Security Conference last month, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying said the China-Japan relationship is “at its worst.” But that’s not the most colorful statement explaining, and contributing to, China-Japan tensions of late.

At Davos, a member of the Chinese delegation referred to Shinzo Abe and Kim Jong Un as “troublemakers,” lumping the Japanese prime minister together with the volatile young leader of a regime shunned by the international community. Abe, in turn, painted China as militaristic and overly aggressive, explaining how -- like Germany and Britain on the cusp of World War One -- China and Japan are economically integrated, but strategically divorced. Even J.K. Rowling has played her part in recent weeks, with China’s and Japan’s ambassadors to Britain each referring to the other country as a villain from Harry Potter.

from Breakingviews:

Japan index: Trade gap, muted wages raise risks

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By Andy Mukherjee

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

The Breakingviews Abenomics Index improved for the fourth straight month in December. But it masks two risks. A vanishing current account surplus means relying on foreigners to finance bloated public spending. Besides, struggling wage growth could stall private consumption.

from MacroScope:

ECB deflation risk denial has echoes of 2009

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Euro zone policymakers like to talk. They often contradict each other at separate speaking engagements on the same day. But they have struck a chorus in recent weeks, asserting that deflation is not a threat.

Members of the ECB Governing Council have been particularly vocal, insisting they will not have to alter policy to counter falling prices.

from MacroScope:

Shock now clearly trumps transparency in central bank policymaking

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The days of guided monetary policy, telegraphed by central banks and priced in by markets in advance, are probably coming to an end if recent decisions around the world are any guide.

From Turkey, which hiked its overnight lending rate by an astonishing 425 basis points in an emergency meeting on Tuesday, to India which delivered a surprise repo rate hike a day earlier, central banks are increasingly looking to "shock and awe" markets into submission with their policy decisions.

from MacroScope:

Davos Day Two — Rouhani, Lew and Lagarde

Day one in Davos showed the masters of the universe fretting about Sino-Japanese military tensions, the treacherous investment territory in some emerging markets and the risk of a lurch to the right in Europe at May’s parliamentary elections which could make reform of the bloc even harder.

Today, the focus will be on Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (and his main detractor, Israel’s Netanyahu). Presumably he’s there to woo the world of commerce now sanctions are to be relaxed in return for Tehran suspending enrichment of uranium beyond a certain level. Anything he says about Syria’s peace talks, which have so far been more hostile than conciliatory, will instantly be headline news.

from MacroScope:

Iran and Japan in focus at Davos

Lots of action in Switzerland today with the annual get-together of the great and good at Davos getting underway and Syrian peace talks commencing in Montreux.

On the latter, few are predicting anything other than failure, a gloom that Monday’s chaotic choreography did nothing to dispel.
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon Ban first offered Iran a seat at the table, prompting a threat to pull out by Syrian opposition groups which led to Washington demanding the invitation to Tehran be withdrawn. In the end, Ban did just that.

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