The Japanese economy has languished in a deflationary environment for years. The recent Parliamentary elections have ushered in the potential for major shifts in policy, both ideologically and practically speaking. The election of Shinzo Abe as the new Prime Minister and overwhelming support for his Liberal Democratic Party will allow the new regime to control both the upper and lower houses. Therefore, no bargains or watered down policy will need to be struck. The sweeping results are a clear statement by the Japanese people that they expect action to be taken to loosen the money supply, inflate the economy and devalue the Yen.
Japan’s economy is roughly 1/4th the size of ours and places them as the fourth largest economy in the world. Therefore, full-scale policy shifts are rare and require a good bit of fortunate timing to implement. There are enough pieces in place to see more unilateral action by Japan as Mr. Abe focuses on the immediate needs of his people rather than finding the right political fit for Japan within the global political dynamic.
Deflation has been the key to the Japanese economy since the late nineties. Over the last 13 years they’ve recorded two inflationary years – 2006 and 2008. Mr. Abe wants to target new inflation and growth targets of 2% and 3%, respectively. Japan hasn’t recorded inflation above 2% annually since 1991. He expects to reach these goals through pressuring the Bank of Japan to loosen lending requirements and purchasing construction bonds for public works projects as their own method of Quantitative Easing. He also expects to include the first steps of domestic military spending to assert their claim to islands in the South China Sea as well as domestic pork barrel subsidies and governmental contracts to boost domestic GDP and help bring them out of recession.
However, considering that Japan already has one of the highest debt to GDP ratios in the world, ranking only behind Zimbabwe, Mr. Abe’s intentions are being watched closely by the credit agencies who already have Japan in a negative watch position and susceptible to further outright credit downgrades. Currently, Moody’s and Standard & Poors rate Japanese debt as equally trustworthy as countries like Chile, Macau and Bermuda. These are drops in the bucket compared to the weight the Japanese economy brings to bear on world trade. Fitch is the only rating company still holding Japanese credit at A+.
Inflating the economy by selling government treasuries is also designed to devalue the Yen against the major world currencies and help fuel their export dependent economy. The Yen has strengthened considerably over the last few years trading from a low of 115 Yen to the U.S. Dollar in July of 2007 to as high as 75 Yen per Dollar this time last year. Currently, the Yen is trading around 84 Yen to the Dollar. Japan is the second largest holder of U.S. Dollar reserves behind only China. Therefore, it could require a tidal wave of selling to make a dent in their $1.25 trillion in U.S. Dollar reserves.
The trading scenario is the mirror image of, “Don’t fight the Fed.” Japan has the financial power Mr. Abe has the political power and the support of the Japanese people. This should manifest itself as cheaper Yen and higher yields on the Japanese Government Bonds. Therefore, I expect the 75 Yen per dollar high set last year to hold and would like to sell Yen at 80. Note that these quotes have been provided in the number of Yen per Dollar while CNBC and U.S. futures quotes will show the inverse, which is what percentage of a Dollar will one Yen buy. Currently, one Yen will buy .00186 worth of a Dollar. Be careful to compare apples to apples when checking market prices.
The next big piece of this puzzle will be the inflationary effect on Japanese Government Bonds (JGB’s). The previous yield high was made in 2007 along with the bottom in the currency. The JGB reaction to the election announcement was swift. The futures have put in a full bearish reversal bar on the monthly chart. This is the first one we’ve seen in this market since June of 2003. Adding to the power of the reversal is the double top formed with the current high nearly matching the June ’03 high to the tick. Looking for places to sell Japanese Treasuries and currency as part of a long-term trade would be well advised as the timing and opportunity for real political and monetary change happens far less than the politicians would have us believe.
This blog is published by Andy Waldock. Andy Waldock is a trader, analyst, broker and asset manager. Therefore, Andy Waldock may have positions for himself, his family, or, his clients in any market discussed. The blog is meant for educational purposes and to develop a dialogue among those with an interest in the commodity markets. The commodity markets employ a high degree of leverage and may not be suitable for all investors. There is substantial risk of loss in investing in futures.