The strong Yen

Japanese Yen

Japanese Yen

The Japanese recently made a new high, reaching levels unseen since 1995.

As a country depending a lot on finished good exports (Japan has no natural resources to export) since after World War II, the strength or weakness of its currency is a matter of national concern. When the Americans ruled and reorganized Japan in 1945, they created today’s Japanese Yen with a conversion rate of 360 Yen for one dollar.

Last Friday the Nippon currency reached 86.58, a fourteen years low and a long way from the initial rate set by the American. And this is getting closer to making an all time high.

This is bad news for the country which has suffered from deflation for the past decade. This is likely to continue with a stronger Yen making all imports cheaper. This is also bad news for local investors. On one hand the Japanese stock market never likes a strong Yen; on the other hand all financial derivatives based on getting cheap Yen financing including carry trades will suffer from a stronger Yen.

This situation illustrates the eternal debate about the merit and benefit of using a floating currency for a trading country. Japan let its currency floating completely during financial deregulation in the 80’s under pressure from the American. But the Big Brother in the North, China, has not fallen to similar pressure. And their exports are booming but their currency is not that strong.

A large part of China’s recent economic success and rise to the top of commercial leagues can be attributed to the weakness of the Renminbi. The Chinese engineered a massive devaluation of their currency in the 80’s and even though the Yuan is nowadays pegged at 6,83 after its recent appreciation, it is still a long way from its value of 1,50 in 1980.

The bottom line is that the currency policies employed by Japan and China in the past twenty years have been opposite in many respects, helping the gap shrink between these two countries. This simple notion can explain tremendous wealth creation in the Middle Kingdom with simultaneous wealth erosion in the Land of the Rising Sun.

As the Japanese officials are starting to show signs of concern after the latest Yen appreciation, it is going to be interesting to watch this next episode in the saga of Asian currencies.

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