Is Bank of Japan finally ready to really raise rates? – Asia Times

TOKYO – After decades of brain scams, prevarications and disappointments, is the Bank of Japan suddenly on the cusp of a reputable financial tightening?

Buyers are betting that the BOJ’s policy meeting on July 30 will be the turning point for the world’s markets for a long time. One important factor is that May saw the highest base pay increase since 1993, which may seal the deal for a rate increase.

Are industry right? Only time will tell, given that gamblers ‘ terrible track record of predicting BOJ spins. The BOJ has pledged unwaveringly for 15 years that it would “normalize” interest rates and end the first quantitative easing ( QE ) experiment that was started in 2001.

Now, though, the standard rate is only 0.1 % and QE continues to offer the most aggressive corporate welfare&nbsp, system history has ever known.

Haruhiko Kuroda, BOJ government from 2013 to 2023, passed up many opportunities to move up QE. Even in the homestretch of his generation at the helm, Kuroda lacked the persistence to commence “tapering” the BOJ’s US$ 5 trillion harmony plate.

BOJ Governor Kazuo Ueda has jumped at every chance to put a considerable tightening shift on the scoreboard since taking office in April 2023. Or even just to reduce the impact of buying of bonds and stocks.

Does that change later this month, there’s a bigger query worth asking: are international markets available for the BOJ to reach the brakes, especially as the yen tests the 162 level against the US dollar?

Given that the BOJ has been holding prices at or close to zero since 1999, it’s impossible to say. Since next, Japan has become the best bank country. The japanese carry industry, a method of borrowing money in yen and investing those funds in higher-yielding assets around the world, quickly gained popularity as a result.

Therefore the risk that the renminbi might surge immediately, pulling the rug out from under businesses everywhere. Any tinge of a japanese boom in recent years shocked bond and stock markets from New York to Johannesburg to Seoul.

This threat complicates Ueda’s decision-making math. If the BOJ acts very confidently, it may collapse international markets. Act to cautiously, and the BOJ will struggle even more to find a way out of QE.

Kazuo Ueda, the government of the Bank of Japan, is in a QE hot seat. Image: Twitter / Screengrab

” For all the chat of how the world economy is holding up better than expected, one big business is not performing in line with that narrative”, says Helen Besier, scholar at Moody’s Analytics.

A unique next update to GDP data revealed that the year started with a larger recession than previously thought in what was yet another difficult week for the Chinese economy. Moreover, the besieged money hit its lowest level since mid-1986″, she said.

Besier adds that “business assurance, as measured by the Bank of Japan‘s Tankan review, did hang constant, but the level top-line display masked failure in nonmanufacturers, mainly service companies. To cover the month, travel-adjusted consumption exercise in May was smooth than April”.

There is no denying that 25 times of zero costs and 23 years of quantitative easing have caused more harm than good.

QE was a last-ditch effort to revive a listless person, and it was never intended to be a permanent component of Japan’s financial environment. Over time, nevertheless, Japan Inc required bigger and bigger quantities to be aware.

Now, years of strong economic aid have deadened Japan’s dog spirits. It has reduced the necessity for the 12 governments that led Japan since the late 1990s to reduce bureaucracy, release labour markets, stage playing fields, support a startup boom and empower women in the workforce.

Companies were compelled to innovate, restructure, and take significant risks as a result of excessive stimulus. The BOJ continued to produce bigger and bigger punchbowls rather than reverse course or simply throttle back on liquidity.

All of this makes the BOJ reluctant to allow the yen’s declines to deepen. Sho Nakazawa, a strategist at Morgan Stanley MUFG, predicts that a BOJ adjustment toward tighter policy could result from a further yen depreciation.

Yet since December,” the yen has steadily weakened even though the rate gap is no higher than it was back then”, notes economist Richard&nbsp, Katz, author of&nbsp,” The Contest for Japan’s Economic Future”.

As such, notes Udith Sikand, analyst at Gavekal Dragonomics,” a political head&nbsp, of&nbsp, steam is building in&nbsp, Japan&nbsp, for a change in the way policymakers handle the yen”.

With the currency now down 31 % against the US dollar since Prime Minister Fumio Kishida took office in October 2021, the yen’s weakness has been instrumental in keeping&nbsp, Japan’s inflation rate above the central&nbsp, bank’s 2 % target for the last two years.

” After a decades-long battle against deflation, this might have been considered a policy success”, Sikand says. ” But&nbsp, Japan’s politicians are fast rediscovering that if there is one thing voters detest, it is price rises.

A change in exchange rate policy is all but certain as a result of survey respondents now citing inflation as the main reason for the Kishida government’s terrible approval ratings.

Some of that pressure may be coming from Japan’s national security establishment. The disappearing yen is making it harder for Tokyo to ramp up military spending, as per Kishida’s 2022 plan to more than double defense expenditures.

That 43 trillion yen budget ( more than the equivalent of US$ 300 billion at the time ), spaced out over five years, was aimed at countering China’s military rise.

Fumio Kishida, the prime minister of Japan, appears shaky. Image: Twitter Screengrab

As Japan’s purchasing power evaporates, Tokyo is already canceling orders for military aircraft. This dynamic wo n’t help Kishida’s odds of hanging onto his job when the Liberal Democratic Party ( LDP ) holds its September election.

All this, of course, is the cost of Japan’s over-riding policies this past decade. This has become especially important since the government gave the BOJ the green light to completely reform its balance sheet in 2013. The economy might not be recovering from the recovery room if Tokyo had carried out the bold reforms promised by the ruling LDP.

That’s not to say Japan has been devoid of structural change. The Nikkei 225 Stock Average reached its all-time high this year thanks to efforts to improve corporate governance. Additionally, unions and large corporations may be negotiating lucrative wage increases.

Japanese workers ‘&nbsp, base salaries increased 2.5 % in May year on year. The BOJ’s own data show many regions reported that” wage growth is broadening to surpass or is in line with last year’s elevated levels” for small and medium-sized businesses, too.

The longer-term consequences of these increases are an open question. Officials had hoped to start a virtuous cycle of increased wage gains that boost retail spending and corporate profits that result in ever-larger pay increases in the 13-plus years since the LDP’s return to power.

But that could prove inflationary. Consumer prices are already above the BOJ’s 2 % inflation target. The “bad” kind imported via a weak currency are the upward price pressures Japan is experiencing.

In recent years, the yen’s declines accelerated while oil and food prices rose all over the world. The sudden return of inflation, after 20 years of deflation, has undermined consumer confidence.

A sudden rise in Japanese yields could also slam shoddy on the stock market, thereby stifling both consumer and business confidence. Herein lies one of Ueda’s biggest fears: triggering the next Lehman Brothers-like shock.

Like his immediate predecessors, Ueda wants to avoid becoming one of the pantheon of BOJ leaders hailed for making policy mistakes that ruin markets.

The worst such blunder was in&nbsp, 1989 and 1990. As Japan’s” bubble economy “went haywire, the BOJ yanked away the proverbial punchbowl more aggressively than markets expected. As such, then-governor&nbsp, Yasushi Mieno’s 1989-1994 tenure is remembered as a cautionary tale for central bankers everywhere.

Lessons also abound from Toshihiko Fukui’s 2003-2008 governorship. Fukui even managed to put an end to QE for a while and twice raise official rates. However, the resulting recession caused a severe political backlash. By 2008, Fukui’s successor had been reinvigorated and cutting rates back to zero.

In the final year of his presidency, Kuroda opted against preparing for a QE exit. Ueda is now obligated to halt stimulus without causing a recession or panic in the world financial system.

The first quarter’s annual growth rate in Japan decreased by 2.9 %, complicating the situation. Another concern is the potential impact of destroying the yen-carry trade on the world.

Since the late 1990s and early 2000s, financiers of all stripes – hedge funds, especially – routinely borrowing cheaply in&nbsp, yen &nbsp, to bet on riskier assets boosted markets worldwide.

As such, sudden&nbsp, yen &nbsp, moves have a knack for shaking global markets, reverberating through stock, bond, commodity and real estate markets from New York to Sao Paulo to London to Mumbai to Seoul. Given that bourses in Shanghai and Shenzhen&nbsp, lost around$ 7 trillion of market value from a 2021 peak to January of this year, yen-driven chaos is the last thing Asia needs.

China might be able to impose itself on Japan by allowing for a weaker yuan. Image: Getty / Screengrab / Al Jazeera

However, many people worry that the yen’s upward trend may also be enabling Communist Party leaders to create a more advantageous exchange rate. It’s become” more of an option” for the People’s Bank of China ( PBOC ) &nbsp” ,as the economy struggles to find its footing, “notes economist Brendan McKenna at Wells Fargo Securities.

Twenty-five-plus years later, it’s now a chronically weak yen that might give Xi the ammunition he needs to pull the exchange-rate trigger. Within reason, of course.

Beijing should never be held accountable for stoking the next global crisis. So the PBOC made the recent moves to show its support for the status quo with a more stable daily reference rate.

However, the more likely it is that Beijing will follow suit by softening the yuan the longer Tokyo keeps a weak yen policy at a time when China’s economy is in danger. Expect Beijing’s daily currency fixing exercise to become a global investor’s obsession in the coming weeks.

All of this makes the BOJ’s policy meeting on July 30 and 31 the most anticipated in a long time. And one that, if Ueda dares, could upend global markets at a particularly delicate moment.

Follow William Pesek on X at @WilliamPesek