Tom Dyson January 12, 2009
In the last five months, the yen has moved from 110 to 90 against the dollar, making it 2008's strongest currency. The yen is the highest it's been in 14 years... and it's only a few points away from its highest level ever.
Toyota sells cars all over the world. When the yen rises against other currencies, Toyota's cars are more expensive to foreigners. They don't buy so many. They choose American, European, or Korean cars instead. Toyota loses money.
According to the Wall Street Journal, every point the yen rises against the dollar costs Toyota $433 million in annual operating profit. In other words, over the last five months, Toyota saw $8.6 billion in annual profits disappear... That's about a quarter of its annual operating profit.
Japan is an export economy. Its strategy for prosperity is producing goods and selling them to foreigners. Every point the yen rises costs Japan billions of dollars in profits for its companies, billions of dollars in tax revenues for the government, and thousands of jobs in the economy.In the past, when the yen rose too high, Japanese authorities intervened in the markets to make the yen fall.
One tool they use is cutting interest rates. Low interest rates discourage people from storing their money in yen and encourage them to save their money in other currencies with higher interest rates.Right now, the Japanese yen has the world's second-lowest official interest rate, after the U.S. The official central bank rate in Japan is 0.3%.
The second tool Japanese officials use to devalue their currency is direct intervention in the foreign exchange markets. The Bank of Japan prints money and then exchanges the yen for dollars in the foreign exchange market, pushing down its price.The last time the Japanese got worried about the yen being too high was in 2003 and 2004. The yen was around 105 at the time. They spent $2.5 billion pushing their currency down about 20% against the dollar.
The Japanese yen is now around 15% higher than it was in 2003-04. And Japan's economy is much sicker than it was back then. The stock market is close to 20-year lows and GDP is shrinking. There's no room to keep cutting interest rates. I'm certain the Japanese authorities are going to start intervention again soon. It may be happening already. Last week, the head of Japan's central bank told the press he was looking at ways to devalue the yen.
Japan's currency pays no interest. Japan's economy is in tatters. But debt is the big reason I expect the yen to fall. Japan's government is the most indebted in the world... with a government debt-to-GDP ratio expected to hit 150% next year. (It averages between 70% and 75% for the six largest economies in the world.)To devalue its currency, Japan's going to have to print money using the same "quantitative easing" techniques Bernanke is using right now. These techniques are highly inflationary... and guarantee the yen will fall against other currencies.You won't hear any other writer in the world predicting inflation and currency devaluation in Japan right now. That's why it's such a good bet.