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Yen Surge Puts Pressure on Price of Goods : Imports: Japanese cars, electronics and other products are likely to cost American consumers more by fall.

April 15, 1993

NEW YORK — The ripples created by the Japanese yen's surge against the dollar are expected to reach U.S. store shelves in the coming months, forcing Americans to pay slightly more for cars, VCRs, cordless phones and other Japanese-made consumer products.

Leading Japanese electronics makers including Sony, Panasonic and Toshiba said Tuesday that prices could rise on selected products by fall, a result of the yen's 10% advance to record high levels in recent months.

But while the yen's appreciation may mean higher prices for American shoppers, a strong Japanese currency typically helps the U.S. economy overall. As the prices of imported Japanese goods rise, consumers are more likely to seek out lower-priced products made domestically.

With one round of midyear price increases just ended, auto maker American Honda began a new one this week, raising Honda and Acura prices an average $202 per vehicle.

However, it takes time before all the currency fluctuations are translated onto price tags. "The financial markets make instantaneous adjustments, but goods and services take a little longer to adjust" in terms of price, said Marc Chandler, an analyst with the advisory firm Idea.

Indeed, it has taken the yen about three months to advance 10% to its current level. The dollar ended New York trading Wednesday at 113.88 yen.

Among smaller-ticket items, prices on television sets are unlikely to change, since many Japanese companies assemble their TVs in the United States. But many VCRs, camcorders, telephones and some personal computers are imported from Japan and are likely to be affected.

Retailers including R. H. Macy & Co. Inc. say prices of Japanese-made consumer electronics are now stable. "It's too soon to tell" whether prices will rise, Macy spokeswoman Laura Melillo said.

Rick Clancy, a spokesman for Sony Corp. of America, said prices will rise "on a selective basis, on a case-by-case basis." But while the increases will vary, he said it is unlikely any would approach 10%.

Consumers may have difficulty pinpointing the increases. New electronic products are introduced in the spring, and many consumers simply expect the latest gadgetry to cost more.

Japanese manufacturers have ways of holding the line on price increases despite currency fluctuations. When the yen advanced sharply in the late 1980s, Idea's Chandler noted, Japanese companies put the squeeze on their profit margins in order to keep prices stable.

But with Japan's economy in recession, it is unlikely Japanese companies will be willing to crimp profits again this time.

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