By Wei Hong Xu
With the recent acceleration of interest rate hikes of the Federal Reserve, the yen is under increasing pressure while the U.S. dollar index remains high. This, in turn, causes the Japanese currency to show a trend of continuous depreciation. The exchange rate of the yen against the U.S. dollar broke through the key node of JPY 135, reaching a high of JPY 136 on June 21. On June 23, USD/JPY continued to hover around a 24-year high of 136. Earlier this week, at one point, the exchange rate of the dollar against the yen reached the highest since October 1998 to JPY 136.70.
Since the beginning of this year, the yen has depreciated by more than 18% against the dollar, and its depreciation rate ranks among the top among the G10 countries. The changes brought about by the devaluation of the yen have greatly changed its role as a traditional safe-haven currency, and it has increasingly become the center of focus for speculation.
With the continuous depreciation of the yen, Japanese government bonds have also shown a gradual downward trend, and have repeatedly exceeded the 0.25% yield ceiling of the Bank of Japan (BOJ)’s yield curve control (YCC). Although the BOJ has repeatedly increased its purchases to maintain the yield of the bonds, this is still insufficient to help the currency exchange rate at the same time. Consequently, the current speculative attack on the yen and Japanese government bonds has become an opportunity that hedge funds are keen on. Indeed, the market has been paying attention to such speculation on the BOJ in the bond market. Although the central bank has implemented the strategy of unlimited purchases of Japanese government bonds since March to drive down long-term interest rates, the market is still skeptical that it can hold the bottom line, hence the commencement of the so-called “widow-maker”.
The main reason for such a situation is the widening of the monetary policy gap between the United States and the BOJ. As the Fed began to tighten monetary policy, simultaneously raising interest rates and shrinking its balance sheet, the BOJ still adhered to the quantitative easing policy, which is one of the “three arrows” of Abenomics. On the one hand, it maintains negative interest rates, and on the other hand, it continues to inject yen liquidity into the market by purchasing yen assets. However, with the recent rise in global inflation, Japan’s inflation has achieved the 2% target that has been difficult to achieve for many years. In April this year, Japan’s inflation rate reached 2%, with the core inflation rate being 2.1%. Driven by the depreciation of the yen and rising international energy prices, the country’s inflation may reach 2.5% in May, and the core inflation will remain at the level of 2.1%. This is arguably the achievement of the BOJ’s policy goals for many years. However, the achievement of this target is largely dependent on the depreciation of the Japanese currency, rather than the increase in demand. Under the pressure of inflationary pressure brought about by the depreciation of the yen and the rising yield of Japanese government bonds, whether the BOJ can adjust its policy and whether it can maintain the strategy of yield curve control is the key concern for the market institutions. Some analysts believe that when other central banks abroad are making a choice between economic growth and controlling inflation, the BOJ has to face a choice between the yen and Japanese bonds.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and the BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda have both stated that they do not want the sharp depreciation of the yen to continue and will pay attention to the trend of the foreign exchange market. That being said, there is no perceivable specific action to intervene in the market, and the market could very well let the yen depreciate. The depreciation of the yen has always been considered positive for the Japanese economy and its stock market, while Abenomics also saw it as a key means to boost inflation and stimulate the economy. Nonetheless, many institutions and scholars have repeatedly pointed out that the situation this year has been very different from the beginning of Abenomics. The damage to the Japanese economy caused by inflation and the depreciation of the yen is far greater than the gain. In the past two years, both the Japanese economy and the Nikkei have been “decoupling” from the trend of the yen. Economist Nouriel Roubini, touted as “Dr. Doom”, recently warned that if the yen exchange rate falls further to 140, it will bring serious inflation problems to the BOJ, and the central bank will be forced to make policy adjustments, abandoning aggressive monetary policies such as zero interest rates and YCC. This means that the BOJ’s policy shift has come under increasing pressure, and is being anticipated and bet on by more and more markets. This has turned the yen from a safe-haven currency to the eye of the storm, so to speak, in the current market game.
Yet, if the Japanese central bank abandons the quantitative easing policy that has been implemented for years, there will also be huge impact on the market. Some analysts opine that the YCC of the BOJ is the last anchor of the old global yield curve structure that utilizes arbitrage conditions, as well as the liquidity of the dollar and yen. If this is dismantled, the impact will be global, and it will place even more pressure on bond yields in the United States, Europe, and Asia. On the Asian side, the South Korean won, the Philippine peso, the Hong Kong dollar, and the Chinese yuan are also under pressure from rising bond yields and currency depreciation. If the BOJ’s policy changes, the consequences will be so terrifying that it may very well be the last straw to bringing down the global capital market.
Final analysis conclusion:
With the widening policy differences between the Federal Reserve and the Bank of Japan, as well as with the rising inflation in Japan, the yen continues to depreciate. This has turned it from a traditionally safe-haven currency into the eye of the storm within the international capital market. The game between the market and the BOJ has caused the Japanese central bank’s future policy choice to become a global focus. Regardless of what the outcome might be, it will certainly have a huge impact on the market.
About the Author
Wei Hongxu is a researcher with ANBOUND, PhD in economics from the University of Birmingham, England.