The Bank of Japan (BOJ), Japan's central bank, bowed to government pressure this week by adopting a 2% inflation target and accepting responsibility for achieving that goal "as early as possible."
The BOJ announced today (Tuesday) that it will begin a program of "unlimited easing" beginning in January 2014 following the end of the central bank's current asset-purchasing program in December.
In a statement announcing the results of Tuesday's Monetary Policy Committee meeting, the Bank of Japan said it anticipates purchasing 10 trillion yen in Treasury notes and 3 trillion yen in Japanese government bonds (JGBs) each month beginning in January 2014.
The statement also indicated the central bank's balance sheet will expand by about 10 trillion yen by the end of 2014 as a result of the purchases. No further expansion of the BOJ balance sheet is anticipated thereafter.Read More...
Can the Japanese Economy End Deflation With These Steps?
Japan's newly elected Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is taking aggressive measures in an attempt to end the deflationary spiral that has plagued the Japanese economy for more than twenty years.
The return of Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to power in a landslide election victory last month is seen as a mandate to do whatever it takes to revive the flagging Japanese economy.
One of the first policies likely to be put into place is the passage of a massive supplementary budget for fiscal 2012 (the year ending March 31, 2013). Depending upon how you count it, the budget ranges from 10 trillion yen ($112 billion) to 20 trillion yen ($224 billion).
Observers have expressed concern over the size of the stimulus and what impact it might have on Japan's sovereign credit rating and on the Japanese government bond (JGB) market, plus what it could do to the U.S. economy.
Let's take a look.
Arm Twisting the Bank of Japan
The supplementary budget is nothing but good, old-fashioned pork barrel spending; the kind of money politics the LDP was known for when they governed Japan for more than 50 years.
What is new and different about Prime Minister Abe's approach to reviving the Japanese economy is his strong arm tactics against the Bank of Japan (BoJ), Japan's central bank.
BoJ independence was enshrined in law only in 1999. Abe has run roughshod over the intent of the law by demanding that retiring BoJ Governor Masaaki Shirakawa sign a written document agreeing to do whatever is necessary-generally considered to be "unlimited easing"-to achieve an inflation target of 2% over the medium-term.
At its last Monetary Policy Committee (the equivalent of the Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee) meeting, which took place just after Abe's landslide election victory, the BoJ agreed to review its policy goals and come back in January with updated policy recommendations. The next Monetary Policy Committee meeting takes place over two days on Jan. 21 and 22.
Press reports indicate that the BoJ will roll over and do pretty much whatever Abe wants - and here's why.
These Three Iconic Japanese Brand Names Are On My "Short List"
[Kyoto, Japan] - Many investors have piled into Japan lately reasoning that somehow this will be "the year" Japan turns around and there will be lots of money to be made.
I don't disagree - only the big profits are on the short side, especially when it comes to these three iconic Japanese tech brands.
As I quipped earlier in the year, it's more likely that Godzilla will walk out of Tokyo Bay again than it is that Japan will suddenly rebound.
I am well aware that's not a popular thought and that it will likely earn me my share of wrath on the Internet. Save your breath and your keystrokes. Having spent more than 20 years in country, I am intimately familiar with the arguments.
For example, value-oriented investors consistently remind me that the Nikkei is "dramatically undervalued." I am also well aware of the "construction boom" that was supposed to follow the tsunami and nuclear crisis.
And I still continually hear from the statistically motivated that the Japanese economy just "has to turn around" because it's exceedingly rare that an economy remains in the doldrums after 20 years.
The Nikkei remains 75.5% off its December 29, 1989 peak for a reason. That means it's going to take a 308.19% gain just to get to break-even based on where it's trading as of this writing.
If you think that's a sure thing, I'm happy for you but wish to point out that business conditions now are hardly conducive to the kind of growth that got the Nikkei there in the first place. The entire society is deleveraging. Consumers are tapped out and the government is a wreck.
As for the construction boom, that's a misconception. As I noted in a flurry of interviews following the terrible events of March 11, 2011, only a few companies are going to enjoy any sort of revenue expansion whatsoever. Sure, there might be a short-term pop, but the majority would experience significant drops in revenue and exports resulting from production losses and a post-quake strengthening of the yen that will compound the efforts to regain lost ground.
And finally, as for the notion that markets simply don't stay down for this long...says who?
It was inconceivable in 1990 that Japan would lose a decade -- let alone three. Nine failed stimulus programs and 22 years later, the Japanese economy has just lurched into another technical recession this week. The rules of the game have changed.
Clearly, the markets can, as the old saying goes, remain illogical far longer than investors can remain solvent.
Here's the Reader's Digest version of my thinking:
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Japanese Election: The Promise of "Unlimited Easing" Sparks More Yen Weakness
Japanese equities have soared and the Japanese yen has weakened over the past week following prime minister Yoshihiko Noda's decision to dissolve the Diet and to call a Lower House election for December 16.
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."
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Godzilla Will Come Out of Tokyo Bay Before Japan Rebounds
Let's talk Japan.
Every year some analyst comes out with a variation of the story that Japan is about to rebound.
Usually the argument goes something like this: Japanese markets are impossibly cheap and the central bank will be there to prevent a catastrophe.
Or sometimes there is another variation of the Cinderella story.
Either way, don't hold your breath. Japan posted its first trade deficit since 1980 last year and the big trade surpluses needed to drive the Nikkei back to its glory days are over.
At best, Japan is going to see balanced trade figures or a small surplus in the years ahead. It won't be enough.
If you're not familiar with what a trade deficit is, here's what you need to know: Japan imported $32 billion worth of stuff more than it exported for the first time in 31 years.
Fighting the Demographic TideCritics say there are mitigating factors behind the figures and they're right.
Against the backdrop of one of the world's fastest aging populations, one of the lowest birth rates on the planet, a renewed reliance on foreign energy, and a yen that is so expensive that Japanese corporations are offshoring production, it won't be long before the country eventually plows through its savings.
So $32 billion is just the beginning...
In fact, we are more likely to see Godzilla walk out of Tokyo Bay than we are to witness a return to Japan's halcyon days.
Worse, I believe that within the next five years, Japan will long for the good old days when the trade deficit was merely $32 billion, instead of $100 billion, $200 billion or worse.
Not one of the things I've just mentioned - that the critics cite as short-term influences - are anything but continuations of much longer-term trends. Nearly all of them are being driven by Japan's declining population.
You may not know this, but Japan's population is projected to shrink by 30% by 2060. That means the total population will go from 128 million people today to only 87 million people in less than 50 years.
That's hard to imagine since Japan is one of the most densely populated countries on the planet. But the effects are already visible.
In my neighborhood in Kyoto, for example, we see abandoned houses that fall in on themselves after people die and there are no longer any other family members to live there. We see schools that are shut down in the region because there are no kids to attend them.
We're also seeing companies shuttered because there are no markets for their products, including my wife's family kimono business, which closed after 300 years in existence.
Simply put, you just can't grow a population or its stock markets without people.
Japan also has no immigration policy to speak of, so there is no means of replacing the "silvers," or senior workers, who are leaving their productive years behind them.
By 2060 the number of people who are 65 or older is going to double. At the same time, the number of people in the workforce between 15 and 65 is going to shrink to less than 50% of the total population.
By 2050, there will be 75 retirees for every 100 workers. By comparison, in the United States in 2050 there will be about 32 retirees per 100 workers.
You'd think Japan could get "busy" and produce more children but even that's problematic. The country has one of the lowest birthrates on the planet. Many young Japanese simply don't want romance -- let alone children.
In fact, many Japanese don't even want sex.
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Economic Aftershocks of the Japan Earthquake
The 8.9 magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami that hit northeastern Japan today (Friday) had an immediate impact on financial markets all over the world. However, the effects of the damage and rebuilding will reverberate through the Japanese economy for months, if not years.
In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, which struck in midafternoon, factories shut down, railways stopped running and roads, ports and airports closed. Markets remained open, but a lack of power and a disruption of the mobile networks curtailed trading after the temblor struck.
Some of Japan's biggest companies were affected:
- Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. (PINK: NSANY) halted production at four factories in the area hit.
- Toyota Motor Corporation (NYSE ADR: TM) closed two assembly plants and a parts factory.
- And Sony Corporation (NYSE ADR: SNE) closed six factories.