The Great Debate UK
Modern wars have no clear start and no clear end, leaving politicians free to deny their existence when it suits them and to claim victory even in the face of obvious defeat.
The same seems to be true of currency wars, judging by the reports from the meeting of the world’s finance ministers in Moscow, who, according to the FT, asserted that “central banks should not target their exchange rates, but added that monetary easing which had the side-effect of weakening a country’s currency was allowed”. This is a bit like saying that bombing civilians is OK as long as you’re actually aiming at terrorists – which, come to think of it, is more or less what we do say.
If you think it is only in the Economics 101 textbook that currency depreciation follows monetary easing as night follows day, then read on: “Shorting the Japanese yen ….hedge funds [have been] reaping billion dollar profits … in January.” The hedge funds had got the message.
The background to this saga goes back to the dark days immediately following the collapse of Lehman Bros in September 2008, when the US authorities hastily embarked on a campaign of so-called Quantitative Easing (again, as in all modern wars, uncomfortable realities have to be camouflaged in specially-invented newspeak – QE is simply what used to be called printing money). Britain did the same. True, neither the US administration nor the Labour Government of Gordon Brown actually took aim at the exchange rate – at least, not publicly – but the Americans were at the very least unconcerned about the effect on the dollar, and on this side of the Atlantic there was quiet satisfaction when the pound duly fell by 20% against the dollar and 30% against the euro.
There are traditional relationships that the financial markets respect. For example, when the markets are tanking the world wants to own safe havens like the yen, the Swiss franc, U.S. debt and gold. If volatility spikes investors go into auto-mode and are almost pre-programmed to purchase these asset classes.
But just how safe are the safe havens? Both the Japanese and Swiss authorities intervened to limit the appreciation of their currencies in recent days. The Swiss National Bank (SNB) did so first by slashing interest rates and announcing a new QE program to flood the economy with money to try and put downward pressure on the franc. The Bank of Japan (BOJ) embarked on something similar, but they directly intervened and sold yen in the markets.
“Those whom the gods would destroy, they first drive mad.” – the words of a wise Roman thinker (or was it a Greek central banker?). At any rate, the gods certainly seem to have no benevolent intentions with regard to this country, judging by the statements coming from the Bank of England, in particular the calls for another round of quantitative easing from one member of the Monetary Policy Committee and the cry of “Spend, spend, spend” from another.
The view emerging from the Bank and the Monetary Policy Committee is that the country is in the grip of a slow-growth recession, facing the threat of Japanese-style deflation and a double-dip recession, and that this grim situation requires near-zero interest rates, supported by QE2 if necessary, in order to restore consumption and lending (including mortgages) to pre-crisis levels.
from The Great Debate:
What does $4 trillion a day in business, never sleeps and sees Japan's Ministry of Finance as just one more patsy?
The foreign exchange market, of course, which is licking its collective lips as Japan embarks on another round of unilateral intervention to sell the yen in an effort to drive down its value and protect its export-oriented economy.
You wouldn't know it to hear officials talk, but the strong yen is not Japan's main problem. The Bank of Japan's latest moves on Monday didn't weaken the currency -- though that is one broad objective of fiscal and monetary stimulus. In any case, the trade-weighted yen is weaker than its real 1990-2010 average and Japanese exports are still rising. Export lobbies may have the government's ear, but intervention could make Japan's domestic predicament worse.
When the Democratic Party of Japan took office last year, its leaders talked about putting more emphasis on Japan's domestic economy rather than the needs of major exporters, which had been favored by Liberal Democratic Party administrations since 1955. The DPJ's first finance minister, Hirohisa Fujii, said at his introductory press conference last September that he was opposed in principle to currency intervention because it could distort the economy.
-Jane Foley is research director at Forex.com. The opinions expressed are her own.-
Perhaps the oddest side-effect of the Greece debt crisis has been its ability to drag Japan’s budget into the spotlight.
from The Great Debate:
Twenty-four years ago, major nations called for depreciation of the dollar to rebalance the global economy. Now, as another effort at rebalancing looms, the dollar will again bear the brunt -- though officials will try to ensure its fall is less dramatic this time.
from The Great Debate:
It looks bad for the dollar, but looks can be deceiving.
Its sharp decline in the last week has pushed the euro to its highest level in a year and reignited fears that there's only one place for the dollar to go, and that's down.
Rhetoric from influential investors like Warren Buffett as well as big foreign buyers of U.S. debt like China and Russia has fed that sense of doom.