To Mohamed El-Erian, the world’s major reserve currencies — the dollar, the euro, and the yen — are a bit like your dirty laundry; every shirt is dirty, but compared to the alternatives, they historically have been the “cleanest dirty shirts.” El -Erian thinks that arrangement will not last forever. He tells Chrystia that a long-term trade that PIMCO likes is a long position in the currencies of the successful emerging markets — the clean shirts — funded by the currencies of the U.S., the EU, and Japan.
El-Erian forecasts a medium-term weakening of the yen as Japan will repatriate more funds than the market currently expects in order to finance reconstruction. Of the three options Japan has for funding reconstruction — borrowing, repatriating funds, or monetizing debt — repatriation has the fewest risks. With a debt-to-GDP ratio well north of 200% and a diminished credit rating of AA-, borrowing money or monetizing debt could each cause a rise in Japan’s interest rates.
In the near-term, though, before Japan can think about reconstruction it will have to muddle through the immediate aftereffects of the tsunami: a one-off destruction of wealth and a 25% reduction in Japanese energy generation. El-Erian pointed out that auto companies and tech firms around the world continue to announce production slowdowns due to the tsunami’s of supply chains — just two days ago Ford announced a temporary shutdown of a factory in Belgium in order to preserve car parts. His biggest worry is the “stagflationary wind” that’s blowing from Japan towards the rest of the global economy.