what’s going on
A month or so ago–I don’t remember the exact timing–the Japanese central bank expressed concern that its weak yen policy was great for export-oriented companies but was hurting ordinary citizens, since food, fuel and other daily necessities are generally priced in dollars. So these items cost a quarter or a third more today than they did before Abenomics kicked in. The Bank of Japan intimated strongly that, because of the deterioration in citizens’ living standards, it was no longer interested in further yen weakness.
This morning in Tokyo the Bank reversed course and voted 5 – 4 to increase the amount of extra money it’s pumping into the economy, in what is now an all-out effort to create 2% inflation.
The yen has dropped by about 2.5% against the dollar, as I’m writing this just at the NY open. The Japanese stock market rose by about 5% on the announcement. Europe and US stock index futures are up as well.
As I’ve written, probably too many times, I think Abenomics will end in tears. Continuing currency weakness will just make the ultimate bad outcome worse. That’s because I believe the root cause of Japan’s quarter-century economic malaise is that the country has chosen to defend its traditional way of life at the expense of economic progress. One result has been to perpetuate a culture of covering up industrial/manufacturing mistakes. Fukushima Daiichi is a terrible example; Takata airbags are the latest. Impossible legal and cultural bars, many erected in the 1990s, still exist to removing from power people at the top of the pagoda, so to speak.
Continuing currency weakness will, in theory, buy more time for change to occur. Admittedly, I’m no longer in close contact with the Japanese economy, but I don’t see any signs that effective change is happening. Without it, the depreciation of the yen will mostly mean a massive loss of national wealth–and more time in power for incompetent industrialists.
(In my view, France and Italy have almost exactly the same issues.)
So, while the new tide of central bank money into the world will likely make markets move higher for a while, its main effect will probably be to smooth over economic bumps in the road for the US and China. We should enjoy the ride. But we’ve also got to think about how to defend ourselves from the ultimate negative consequences for Japan–and anyone who does business with/in the Land of Wa.