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G-7 nations will intervene to halt the yen's rise

A stronger currency would hurt Japanese exporters by making their products more expensive for foreign buyers.

March 17, 2011|By Kenji Hall and Tom Petruno | Los Angeles Times
  • Yoshihiko Noda, Japan's finance minister, left, and Masaaki Shirakawa, governor of the Bank of Japan, speak to reporters after a conference call with finance ministers and central bank governors from the Group of Seven.
Yoshihiko Noda, Japan's finance minister, left, and Masaaki Shirakawa,… (Haruyoshi Yamaguchi, Bloomberg )

Reporting from Tokyo and Los Angeles — The Group of 7 industrialized nations have agreed to act together to try to stop the Japanese yen from strengthening further by intervening in currency markets, an extraordinary step to avert more damage to the country's battered economy.

The decision, announced by Japanese Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda in Tokyo, came after the yen's value had surged to a record 76.25 per dollar in Asian trading Thursday in the U.S. from 79.39 on Wednesday and about 83 a week earlier.

"The Japanese market is not in chaos and will continue to be healthy," Noda said in a televised morning press conference. "Japan is in a difficult situation at the moment. The G-7 intervening together to stabilize the market will have great meaning."

Photos: In Japan, life amid crisis

The intervention meant the G-7, which includes finance ministers from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the United States, would probably sell yen and buy dollars, though how much was not made public to keep speculators guessing.

The news quickly knocked the yen back to 81.32 per dollar in Asian trading Friday. The Japanese stock market rallied, with the Nikkei-225 index closing Friday with a 2.7% gain to 9,206.

"We need to wait for European and U.S. markets to open to see whether this lasts," said Satoru Ogasawara, an economist for Credit Suisse in Tokyo. "But the strong comments from the G-7 that they will prevent volatile exchange rates has made the market think that the countries are serious about preventing a sharp rise of the yen."

The yen has been gaining in part as currency traders bet that Japanese companies and investors will sell some of their foreign assets to bring money home in the wake of the devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis. Japan's public and private sectors are deeply invested overseas because of near-zero interest rates at home. A flow of money back to Japan would boost demand for yen.

But each tick higher in the yen threatens the country's exporters by making Japanese products more expensive for foreign buyers. That would be another body blow to Japan, whose exports such as vehicles and electronics are a cornerstone of its economy.

Already, many of Japan's leading manufacturers such as Toyoto Motor Co. and Sony Corp. are reeling from the natural disasters. Company stocks have been dumped and facilities temporarily closed.

A joint intervention is highly unusual and shows that Japan and its allies are serious about restraining the yen. The last such joint agreement to intervene in currency markets was in 2000, when the G-7 sought to bolster the sinking euro.

Japan's central bank received international criticism last September when it briefly intervened by buying dollars to drive the yen down after its value had spiked against foreign currencies.

But Friday's intervention "is different," said Kengo Suzuki, foreign exchange analyst for Mizuho Securities. "It's an emergency situation."

The effort to hold the yen down is meant to work in concert with the Bank of Japan's massive infusion of liquidity to ensure the country is well-funded to reconstruct from last week's deadly disasters. The central bank pumped an additional $37 billion into the banking system Friday, bringing the total amount provided in the last five days to 37 trillion yen $467 billion.

Japan's economy minister, Kaoru Yosano, told Reuters in an interview Thursday that the total cost of from the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear emergency would exceed 20 trillion yen ($252 billion), which is more than the cost of the 1995 Kobe temblor.

Photos: In Japan, life amid crisis

Times staff writer David Pierson in Beijing contributed to this report. Special correspondent Yuriko Nagano in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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