Emerging central banks that sold billions of dollars over the summer in defence of their currencies might soon be forced to do the opposite. Japan’s massive currency intervention on Monday knocked the yen substantially lower not only versus the dollar but also against other Asian currencies. The action is unlikely to sit well with other central banks struggling to boost economic growth and raises the prospect of a fresh round of tit-for-tat currency depreciations. Already on Monday, central banks from South Korea and Singapore were suspected of wading into currency markets to buy dollars and push down their currencies which have recovered strongly from September’s selloff. The won for instance is up 6.9 percent in October against the dollar — its biggest monthly gain since April 2009. The Singapore dollar is up 4.5 percent, the result of a huge improvement in risk appetite.
Despite the interventions, the yen ended the session more than 2 percent lower against both the won and the Singapore dollar, and most analysts reckon Japan’s latest intervention is by no means its last. That’s bad news for companies that compete with Japan on export markets and will keep neighbouring central banks watching for the BOJ’s next move. “Asian central banks are likely to play in the same game, and keep currencies competitive via regular interventions,” BNP Paribas analysts said.
But the race to the bottom has been underway for some time. After all central banks in the West have cut rates, as in the euro zone, and embarked on more quantitative easing, as in the UK. One bank, Switzerland’s, has gone as far as to effectively establish a ceiling for its currency. And in Asia, Indonesia surprised markets with an interest rate cut this month while Singapore eased monetary policy. Many expect South Korea’s next move also to be a rate cut even though inflation is running well above target. Analysts at Credit Agricole predicted this week’s G20 meeting to yield no fruitful discussion on what they termed “currency manipulation”. “This lack of co-ordinated policy could trigger an escalation in ongoing currency wars,” Credit Agricole analyst Adam Myers told clients. That would in turn lead to a renewed acceleration in central banks’ dollar reserves, he added.