While Bank of Japan officials see no grounds for Donald Trump’s accusation of currency devaluation, they still worry that the bank’s unique measure to control long-term rates could become the next target as the president continues his rhetorical battles.
“I have no idea what he is saying,” said one baffled BOJ official after learning about the criticism Trump leveled against the central bank.
Bond investors seem similarly perturbed. Yields on 10-year Japanese government bonds temporarily rose 0.025 percentage point Thursday, hitting 0.115% — the highest since the BOJ announcement of negative interest rates Jan. 29, 2016. The climb also reflects market anxiety over whether the central bank will continue buying up JGBs at the current pace.
BOJ Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda refuted Trump’s accusation in the Diet on Wednesday, saying Japan’s monetary policy is designed to defeat persistent deflation and not to keep the yen weak. “We discuss monetary policy every time Group of 20 finance ministers and central bankers meet,” he said. “It is understood among other central banks that [Japan] is pursuing monetary easing for price stability.”
In fact, U.S. monetary policy is chiefly responsible for the yen’s depreciation against the dollar. The Federal Reserve in 2015 switched to a tightening mode after keeping interest rates near zero for years, judging quantitative easing to have worked its expansionary magic on the economy. The gap between American and Japanese rates is now the widest it has been in around seven years, encouraging heavier buying of the dollar — the higher-yielding currency — than the yen.
The Bank of Japan is poised to upgrade its three-year economic growth outlook in the final days of January in light of strong recent indicators, though stronger inflation forecasts will be a harder sell.
The central bank will compile its quarterly outlook on economic activity and prices at a two-day policy meeting beginning Monday. The report will outline the BOJ’s forecast for each of the three years through fiscal 2018,
The last report, released in November, pegged gross-domestic product growth at 1% for fiscal 2016, 1.3% for fiscal 2017 and a slim 0.9% for fiscal 2018. Discussions this time are expected to center on the first two years, with the fiscal 2017 growth forecast thought to be headed for the mid-1% range.
Signs for an upgrade are strong. The BOJ in December boosted its outlook for Japan’s economy as a whole for the first time in 19 months. Such goods as smartphone parts and automobiles are driving up exports and industrial production, while consumer spending on durable goods such as cars is on the rebound as well. Changes made late last year to the GDP calculation method will also give the figure a boost: companies’ research and development spending, which has shown consistent growth over the years, now counts as investment.
BOJ Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda said at a World Economic Forum panel discussion Jan. 20 that he expects Japan’s economy to grow by around 1.5% in fiscal 2016 and fiscal 2017, significantly exceeding the country’s potential growth rate.
The Bank of Japan revised its economic outlook for the first time in 19 months during the two-day policy meeting that ended Tuesday. But that is apparently the only step the central bank is taking at this time.
“The headwinds seen in the first half of this year have ceased,” BOJ Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda told reporters following the meeting. Markets were riled by heightened concerns directed at emerging economies at the beginning of 2016, only to be shocked in June by Britain’s referendum to exit the European Union. The BOJ was forced to loosen its policy in July, raising its target for exchange-traded fund purchases.
During the second half of 2016, the economic landscape has slowly brightened, beginning with U.S. readings. The Japanese economy has followed suit with increased exports and production. Consumption also recovered from a slump caused by a soft stock market and inclement weather at the beginning of the year.
“Japan’s economy has continued its moderate recovery trend,” the BOJ said in a statement published after the meeting. The central bank had previously qualified that view by highlighting sluggish exports and production.
Oil prices surged to their highest level since July 2015 on Monday raising concerns about inflation and helped push the US 10-year Treasury yield above the 2.5 per cent mark.
The yield on the US 10-year, which moves inversely to price, climbed above 2.5 per cent for the first time in two years to 2.5005 per cent.
“The bearishness in the bond market is even more acute than the bullishness on equities,” David Rosenberg at Gluskin Sheff, said.
He added: “A wall of money is exiting the bond market into the stock market — bond fund outflows in the past five weeks are at the highest in three-and-a-half years.”
Alongside energy prices, Peter Tchir at Brean Capital also said the weakness in Japan “is concerning to global bond investors”. He noted the Bank of Japan had pledge in September to keep the 10-year yield on the Japanese government bond at or below zero per cent. Instead, the JGB is now at nearly 0.8 per cent. That “might be an indication of Central Banks losing their ability or willingness to suppress interest rates,” he said.
Despite the run up in oil prices, the S&P 500 was down 0.1 per cent to 2,257.67, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average was flat at 19,760.14 — less than 300 points shy of breaching the 20,000 level. The Nasdaq Composite was down 0.5 per cent to 5,420.70.
Investors appear to be pausing for breathe following the sharp run up in stocks in recent weeks.
The sell-off in government bonds continues, with US Treasuries leading Asian counterparts lower on Monday and ahead of the Federal Reserve’s decision on interest rates later this week.
The yield (which moves inversely to price) on the benchmark 10-year US Treasury rose as much as 2.74 basis points in morning trade today to 2.4949 per cent.
That level is not quite enough to surpass the intraday high of 2.4985 per cent hit on June 11, 2015, but it puts it on track to be the highest closing level since September 2014, which also happens to be the most recent month when yields closed above 2.5 per cent.
There’s a similar pattern playing out with Japanese and Australian government bonds today. The 10-year JGB yield is up 0.2 basis points at 0.063 per cent, the highest level since February this year. The yield on the 10-year George Lazenby*, up 4.3 basis points at 2.858 per cent, is at its highest level since December 2, which in turn is the highest level of 2016.
Yields on government bonds have galloped higher since Donald Trump won the US election, with markets taking the view his economic policies would spur inflation. That has blunted demand for haven investments, such as Treasuries, the Japanese yen and gold.
More broadly, the inflation outlook in the US has been picking up this year such that markets think the Federal Reserve will be comfortable with lifting interest rates by 25 basis points at their policy meeting on Wednesday, the first increase in a year.
Japan’s Finance Ministry is set to boost the issuance of 40-year government bonds to a record 3 trillion yen ($26 billion) in fiscal 2017, betting on strong investor demand.
The issuance of two-year and other short- and medium-term bonds with negative yields will decrease due to low demand.
The JGB issuance plan for fiscal 2017 will be finalized based on opinions the ministry hears at meetings with brokerages, life insurers and other market players. The meetings are scheduled for Friday and Dec. 19. The plan will be announced along with next year’s budget, which will be endorsed by the Cabinet on Dec. 22.
It will be the first bond issuance since the Bank of Japan adopted a negative interest rate policy in January. The amount of JGBs issued periodically for institutional investors will decrease for the fourth consecutive year due to a decline in refinancing bonds. While the total issuance will decline, the issuance of superlong-term bonds with positive yields will increase.
The issuance of 40-year bonds will increase for the third straight year, rising nearly fourfold from fiscal 2008, when 40-year bonds made their debut. Investor demand for the 40-year bonds, with their relatively high yields, is expected to be strong. The increase in the issuance of superlong-term bonds might also prevent any uptick in demand for refinancing of short- and medium-term bonds.
After a three-week rally, the dollar bulls finally showed signs of tiring ahead of the weekend. Technical indicators have begun rolling over from over-extended conditions. Nevertheless, the dollar’s pullback is limited in time to the first part of the week ahead, and in scope to only modest retracement targets ahead of the US employment data, the Italian referendum, and the Austrian presidential election on December 4.
We have suggested that the dollar’s advance was fueled by the divergence that had little to do with the US election. It is clear from Fed comments and the minutes from the November FOMC meeting that officials were prepared to hike rates regardless of the election outcome. Moreover, subsequent data has been mostly better than expected.
Trump’s promise of significant fiscal stimulus with the world’s largest economy already grown near or above trend, the inflationary implications are clear. Nominal rate differentials have widened significantly in US favor. We are cautious are extrapolating too much from the inflation-linked securities as the liquidity premium tends to exaggerate the movement. Also, Fed funds futures strip has not fully priced in two hikes next year, suggesting potential room further adjustment.
Since November 4, a few days before the US election, the Dollar Index rose about 5.35% at last week’s peak just above 102.00. The RSI has rolled over, as has the Slow Stochastics. The MACDs may turn next week. Initial support is seen in the 101.00-101.20 and then 100.65.