Strong yen
Illustration: Phil Couzens

Strong yen the new norm as Japan poised to reform?

Interesting developments in the Nikkei ahead of the parliamentary election at the end of this month, which at this point looks as if it will finally bring an end to LDP rule. A foreign exchange rate of $1/¥94 would have been practically inconceivable prior to the “Lehman shock” (as the Japanese refer to the genesis of the financial crisis), let alone a stock market rally. And now, ahead of what appears to be a DPJ that will let the yen appreciate and focus more on domestic demand (rightfully so), the stock indices are showing no fear of the yen.

A sustained rally in conjunction with even more yen appreciation bodes especially well for the domestic-oriented stocks, of which there are plenty — many that still have saliva-inducing valuations. However, exporters remain the headline grabbers, and it is not clear just how much yen strength can or will be tolerated (one suggestion is ¥87 is the trip wire, a level reached early this year, and a level not seen previously since the mid-90s). That being said, again what makes this all very interesting is that although the strong yen makes Japanese exports less competitive (great instead for instance, for South Korea (EWY: 42.64 +0.66 percent), it does allow them to invest more in production overseas, a win-win for the Japanese and local FDI recipient economies.

What worries me though is the pace of reform(s) versus expectations, assuming a DPJ victory. Meantime, there is no debating the fragility of the domestic/global economy and the recovery thus far in equities. Domestic and overseas investors are very fickle and just as quickly as money has been flowing in, it can reverse course equally as quickly. The seemingly conservative, opportunistic play would be to go long the yen (FXY: 105.18 -0.22 percent). The DPJ’s financial advisors (and by extension, one of them possibly being tapped as finance minister) have already gone public saying they don’t intend to intervene in forex, except in extraordinary cases. Another play would be to look at the smaller-cap funds like (DFJ: 41.1101 -1.34 percent) and (JSC: 40.83 -1.07 percent), but unfortunately, these are not very liquid and are quite fragmented. Time-permitting I will look at posting some specific stock picks.

At the time of publishing, the author does not own any long/short positions in the funds mentioned.


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