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01/12/2014 | The falling yen - Low-calibre munitions

The Economist Staff

Fears of a currency war in Asia are overblown

 

SHINZO ABE has a knack for stirring thoughts of war. The Japanese prime minister’s tributes to his country’s war dead and his desire to alter its pacifist constitution have prompted China and South Korea to accuse him of militarism. Then there are his views on the yen. His efforts to reduce its value have spurred talk of an Asian currency war, on the assumption that China and South Korea would also try to steer their currencies lower to make sure their exports remained competitive.

Kim Moo-sung, a leader of South Korea’s ruling party, called this week for the government to gird itself for a currency clash. Some saw China’s interest-rate cut last week as a first salvo, since it prompted a fall in the yuan. Happily, however, the chances of a fully-fledged Asian currency war are, like those of a military confrontation, much slimmer than alarmists suggest.

Mr Abe has been calling for a cheap yen to help Japanese exporters since before he took office, in late 2012. At his urging, the Bank of Japan has adopted a policy of “quantitative easing”—creating money to buy bonds, in the hope of igniting inflation. This has pummelled the yen, which is down more than 20% against the yuan and the won since the beginning of last year. But Japanese exports have barely grown and certainly not at the expense of competitors in the region. Chinese and South Korean exports to America, for instance, have risen about 20% over the past two years, whereas Japan’s are down by 2%.

The disconnect between Japan’s exports and the yen has two main causes. First, many Japanese manufacturers have moved overseas in recent years. A third of the output of Japanese firms is now made abroad, up from just over a tenth in the 1980s, according to the Japan Bank for International Co-operation. A weak yen is not the tonic for exports that it used to be.

Second, although the weak yen allows Japanese firms to cut the price of exports in foreign-currency terms without reducing their earnings in yen, few have done so. Instead, they are keeping international prices constant, and pocketing the extra yen. Japanese exports have been flat for three years in terms of volume, but they are up more than 20% in value (see chart). Much of that goes to companies’ bottom lines. Some also goes on higher costs due to the rising price of imports. Japanese manufacturers’ input prices are up 6% since September 2012, according to Goldman Sachs.

The yen may have further to fall, however, as the Bank of Japan is scaling up quantitative easing. Japanese exports may at last be starting to grow: volumes rose 4.7% year-on-year in October. After Hyundai, a South Korean carmaker, reported a big decline in profit in the third quarter, its chief financial officer said the weak yen was one of the company’s biggest concerns. But the yen is also a convenient excuse. About two-thirds of Hyundai’s production is already overseas. The IMF reckons that the sensitivity of South Korean exports to the won/yen exchange rate has halved since the 1990s.

The falling yen has stoked one Japanese industry: tourism. Visits by foreigners are up 27% this year. Thousands of Chinese online agents have also sprung up, offering to buy goods in Japan to bring back to China, to exploit the weak yen and dodge import tariffs. A search on Taobao, an online marketplace, reveals more than a million Japanese products available through such channels; cosmetics are especially popular. “With the yen falling, we now have room to offer more sales,” says Zhou Chenliang, a Chinese resident of Osaka who sells Japanese handicrafts on Taobao.

If Japanese exporters were to follow Ms Zhou’s lead and cut prices en masse, the weak yen could yet provide a bigger boost to the economy. But that in itself would place upward pressure on the yen. Also, it must be remembered that the ultimate goal of Mr Abe’s monetary experiment is to pull Japan out of deflation and generate wage increases. That is a far cry from the sort of beggar-thy-neighbour depreciation aimed at keeping prices down. As Lee Ju-yeol, the head of South Korea’s central bank, put it recently, concerns about the yen are “a little excessive”. The same can be said of talk of a currency war in Asia.

Interactive currency-comparison tool: The Big Mac index - Global exchange rates, to go

The EconomicTimes (India)

 



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15/08/2009|
15/08/2009|
11/08/2009|
11/08/2009|
11/08/2009|
11/08/2009|
19/07/2009|
19/07/2009|
18/07/2009|
18/07/2009|
27/03/2009|
22/03/2009|
22/03/2009|
27/01/2009|
27/01/2009|
27/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
11/01/2009|
06/12/2008|
06/12/2008|
06/12/2008|
06/12/2008|
23/11/2008|
23/11/2008|
16/11/2008|
16/11/2008|
04/11/2008|
04/11/2008|
03/11/2008|
03/11/2008|
24/10/2008|
24/10/2008|
24/10/2008|
24/10/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
06/09/2008|
06/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
22/08/2008|
22/08/2008|
17/08/2008|
17/08/2008|
16/08/2008|
16/08/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
19/07/2008|
19/07/2008|
24/05/2008|
24/05/2008|
03/05/2008|
03/05/2008|
29/04/2008|
11/02/2008|
05/01/2008|
09/12/2007|
18/11/2007|
10/11/2007|
10/11/2007|
06/11/2007|
06/11/2007|
06/09/2007|
26/08/2007|
25/08/2007|
11/07/2007|
16/06/2007|
16/06/2007|
10/06/2007|
10/06/2007|
19/05/2007|
19/05/2007|
19/05/2007|
19/05/2007|
24/04/2007|
24/04/2007|
14/04/2007|
14/04/2007|
05/04/2007|
05/04/2007|
05/04/2007|
28/02/2007|
28/02/2007|
05/02/2007|
05/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
29/01/2007|
29/01/2007|
29/01/2007|
29/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
20/12/2006|
20/12/2006|
17/11/2006|
30/09/2006|
28/07/2006|
12/04/2006|
12/04/2006|
12/04/2006|
06/03/2006|
21/02/2006|
17/02/2006|
31/01/2006|
10/01/2006|
28/12/2005|
31/10/2005|
26/09/2005|
29/08/2005|
11/08/2005|
08/08/2005|
24/06/2005|
24/06/2005|
24/06/2005|
03/04/2005|
03/04/2005|
03/04/2005|
03/04/2005|

ver + notas
 
Center for the Study of the Presidency
Freedom House