The Nikkei 225 Index, which is weighted more towards Japan's traditional export sector, is up 5.5% since the election was announced. The broad TOPIX index is up 6.2% The yen has fallen by 3.9%, more than 300 pips, and is now trading at an 82 handle for the first time since April.
The main reason for the weakness of the Japanese yen has been the repeated calls for "unlimited easing" by Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) president Shinzo Abe.
The LDP, which governed Japan from 1955 to 2009, is widely expected to be returned to power in the upcoming election. If the LDP wins an outright majority or leads a coalition government, Abe will become prime minister.
In the first few days of the election campaign, Abe made the case for aggressive monetary easing by the Bank of Japan to break the cycle of yen strength and deflation that is pushing the Japanese economy back into recession. Specifically, Abe wants the central bank to conduct "unlimited easing," with the aim of achieving 2% inflation and 3% GDP growth.
Among Abe's most controversial statements was his call for the Bank of Japan to directly finance a new wave of public works spending by directly purchasing construction bonds-off balance sheet government bonds used to fund long-term infrastructure projects considered to be investments.
Construction bonds are obligations of the Japanese government but are not considered to be part of the government's deficit.
"To protect people's lives and keep our children safe, we must implement public works spending and do so proudly," Abe said in a speech reported by The Wall Street Journal. "If possible, I'd like to see the Bank of Japan purchase all of the construction bonds that we need to issue to cover the cost. That would also forcefully circulate money in the market. That would be positive for the economy, too."
By itself, this story probably wouldn't be a big deal. But this development is the start of an important new trend in the global currency markets. And the following three factors tell me that we should be taking a close look at why China has decided to dump Japanese debt. For instance:
- Given that the same thing happened in August, September marked the second straight month Beijing has sold more Japanese securities than it purchased.
- This marks the reversal of a seventh-month stretch of China being a net purchaser of Japanese debt.
- The two months of sales nearly wiped out the net surplus of 2.32 trillion yen ($27.86 billion) that China had amassed as a result of seven months of buying Japanese debt.
- Finally, the 2.02 trillion yen ($24.26 billion) worth of Japanese debt that China sold in August was China's single-largest monthly sale of Japan government bonds since 1995, when these statistics first started being recorded.
Let me explain....
The yen's rise came after the Bank of Japan tried yet again this week to devalue its currency. On Tuesday the Bank of Japan lowered the benchmark interest rate to "virtually zero," and announced a $60 billion (5 trillion yen) plan to buy government bonds - similar to the 'quantitative easing' policy employed by the U.S. Federal Reserve.
"With today's decision, the Bank of Japan paved the path for the next step," Junko Nishioka, chief economist at RBS Securities Japan Ltd. in Tokyo told Bloomberg News on Tuesday. "What will be critical will be how foreign-exchange rates move as a result," along with the impact of any additional easing by the Federal Reserve, she said.
With their knees almost ready to buckle under such burdens already, how will American consumers respond when clothes, computer accessories or other key consumer staples at their neighborhood Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) undergoes an overnight price hike of 30% to 60%?
As the United States aims to increase exports by debasing the dollar, a global currency war is underway that could swallow consumers and investors if they don't prepare for the likelihood of a weaker dollar.
The bank cut the overnight call rate target to a range of 0.00% to 0.1%, the lowest level since 2006. It last cut the target rate to 0.1% from 0.3% in December 2008.
Policymakers also will establish a $60 billion (5 trillion yen) fund to buy government bonds and other assets, inflating the balance sheet at a time when U.S. and U.K. central bankers are contemplating doing the same.
The Japanese yen hit 82.88 against the dollar, alarming the country's officials who are worried that the rising currency would cut into exporters' profits. The yen had risen more than 11% since mid-May.
"We can't overlook these movements that could have a negative effect on the stability of the economy," Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda said Wednesday. "We will continue to watch developments in the market carefully and we will take bold actions including further intervention if necessary."
Prime Minister Naoto Kan detailed a plan to implement a new stimulus program by the end of September, and the Bank of Japan announced after an emergency meeting that it would introduce new loan programs to encourage bank lending to consumers.
The yen has climbed more than 10% against the dollar since May, last week hitting a 15-year high of 83.60 per dollar and threatening Japan's export-driven economic recovery. Analysts were skeptical that the moves would do anything to change the currency value or stimulate the stagnant recovery, and said the measures are largely a political attempt to pacify Japanese consumers instead of actually halting the yen's rise.