December 3, 2023

Dollar Tops 100 Yen in Milestone for Bank of Japan Effort

Japanese authorities’ efforts to lift the moribund economy showed progress on Thursday, as the yen breached an important level against the United States dollar.

Since taking office in late December, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made beating deflation a major point of his economic policy, prompting the central bank to pour money into the economy. That policy is bearing fruit, as the yen weakens against the dollar and other world currencies.

With the yen falling, the dollar is now valued at more than 100 yen, a level not seen in four years.

The yen’s move is kindling inflation in an economy that has long been moribund, in the process delivering a competitive boost to the country’s big exporters. The promise of reflation has also had an effect on the stock market; the Nikkei has risen throughout this year on the anticipation of laxer policy.

The Bank of Japan has moved aggressively to reinvigorate the economy and fight deflation.

Last month, the central bank announced a decisive break with its earlier policies. Instead of focusing on keeping overnight interest rates close to zero – which seemed to be having little effect in reviving growth – the central bank aimed to double the amount of money in circulation, seeking to produce annual inflation of about 2 percent.

The promise to drastically change Japan’s economic policy and end the long, debilitating era of deflation has caused the dollar to rally for much of this year. By midafternoon in New York, the dollar was valued at 100.53 yen.

With this move, the yen has fallen nearly 14 percent against the dollar this year. The only currency that has fallen by more is the Venezuelan bolívar.

Japanese officials say the policy does not overtly target a lower yen rate, which could raise tensions with other exporting nations like the United States. But a weaker yen is a welcome development in some ways. A number of large Japanese companies have reported banner profit in recent weeks, driven in part by the drop in the currency.

On Wednesday, Toyota reported net income of 313.9 billion yen, or $3.17 billion, in its latest quarter, as the value of its overseas earnings increased in its home currency and production in Japan became more cost-efficient. Sony also cited the yen in its latest earnings report.

The efforts by the Bank of Japan to continue to flood the economy with liquidity is likely to keep downward pressure on the yen in the coming months. The central bank is following an asset purchase program to inflate the economy by aggressively buying longer-term bonds and doubling its government bond holdings in two years.

The depreciation of the yen may be a step in the right direction as the authorities try to fuel some growth. However, Japan still faces many stiff challenges until it breaks out of its period of deflation. It has an aging and shrinking population and cumbersome regulations that make the economy inefficient, and it is not clear that monetary policy alone can end stubborn deflation in Japan.

As he has tried to put a new focus on reviving the economy, Mr. Abe fought with the central bank’s former leaders over setting the 2 percent inflation goal. Mr. Abe’s pressure in the end led to the resignation of the bank’s previous governor, the moderate Masaaki Shirakawa. His departure led to the appointment of Haruhiko Kuroda, who shares Mr. Abe’s economic philosophy.

As it pursues its new policy, the Bank of Japan is buying longer-term government bonds, lengthening the average maturity of its holdings to seven years from three years and expanding Japan’s monetary base to 270 trillion yen by March 2015.

In this way, the bank will buy about 7 trillion yen in bonds each month, equivalent to over 1 percent of its gross domestic product. That is almost twice the bond purchases of the United States Federal Reserve Bank.

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Inside Asia: Trade Deficit Would Test Beijing

SINGAPORE — China could record a rare trade deficit next year, which would test both Beijing’s resolve to go slowly on easing monetary policy and its trading partners’ ability to adapt.

The first quarter is shaping up to be especially tough because of weak demand from Europe and the United States, coupled with the normal spike in imports that comes with the celebration of Chinese New Year, which starts in late January.

Zhiwei Zhang, an economist with Nomura based in Hong Kong, said he expected China to import $28.8 billion more than it exports during the first three months of 2012, dwarfing the $1 billion deficit posted over the same period in 2011.

That quarterly deficit was the first since 2004, and China has not recorded a full-year shortfall in two decades.

Chinese Commerce Ministry officials have been warning for weeks that the trade outlook is “very severe.” Slowing exports are part of the reason why many economists believe that Chinese economic growth will dip below 8 percent, at least in the first half of 2012 if not the full year. The 8 percent mark is considered the minimum growth rate needed to create enough jobs to keep up with a growing urban population.

But slowing growth in China may not be such a terrible thing for the world.

“Looking from a global perspective, China’s shrinking trade surplus should be seen as a welcome development, as evidence that China has made progress in boosting its domestic demand relative to exports,” said Tao Wang, a China economist at UBS who is based in Hong Kong.

Ms. Wang said she expected export growth to drop to zero in 2012, which would trim 1.4 percentage points off China’s gross domestic product, although she does not think the trade surplus will completely vanish in 2012. And flat exports will prod Beijing to ease fiscal and monetary policy, she said.

China has shown no willingness to repeat its 2009 spending spree, which helped to insulate it from the Lehman Brothers fallout but also left behind a trail of questionable investments and a growing pile of bad debts. Instead of a deluge of government cash, the spending next year will probably be aimed at areas like affordable housing and green energy that China has already designated as development priorities.

Reducing banks’ reserve requirements, which allows them to increase lending, is widely expected to be the main policy lever. Interest rate cuts, if any, will be used sparingly.

But if a slowdown turns into something worse, China may abandon the “prudent” monetary and “pro-active” fiscal policy approach it spelled out at an annual work conference on Dec. 14.

“If the Chinese economy needs stimulation, they have the resources and the political will to do it,” Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate and economist, said in an interview in Santiago on Friday. “Unlike the United States, they don’t have half the country committed to an ideology which says the way to solve the problem is to cut spending,” he said. “If their economy slows, they’ll spend to keep going.”

If Chinese domestic growth stays resilient, the United States would stand to benefit from rising demand. U.S. exports to China reached $84.2 billion in the first 10 months of 2011, up about 16 percent from the same period in 2010, according to U.S. Commerce Department data.

However, for the rest of Asia, slower exports from China could mean less demand for imports into China. A large fraction of what China imports from its Asian neighbors is raw materials or partially finished goods for export.

Wiping out the trade surplus, which totaled about $180 billion in 2010 but probably narrowed this year, would also mean fewer dollars flowing into China. Those reserves are typically recycled into U.S. and other government bonds.

But it could conceivably propel China ahead of the United States in correcting current account imbalances that have been a source of friction between the two countries for years. Washington has long pressured Beijing to reduce its surplus and promised to tackle its own deficit.

Over the first three quarters of 2011, China’s current account imbalance was equal to 3 percent of G.D.P., below the 4 percent threshold that Timothy F. Geithner, the U.S. Treasury secretary, has linked with global economic stability. The U.S. current account deficit narrowed to 2.9 percent of G.D.P. in the third quarter.

If China’s export juggernaut really does run out of steam, the biggest adjustment the United States may have to make is in political campaigns. Anti-China rhetoric has intensified as Republicans battle over who will win the right to challenge President Barack Obama in 2012. Mitt Romney, a top Republican candidate, has accused China of manipulating the renminbi to gain an export advantage and vowed to impose trade sanctions if he were elected.

“Despite the rising rhetoric from the U.S. in recent months complaining about China’s exchange rate policy, the fundamental pressures for the renminbi to appreciate have weakened,” said Ms. Wang of UBS.

Emily Kaiser is a Reuters correspondent.

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