By Antonia McLaughlin
The Japanese housewife is an iconic and integral part of the Japanese populace. She holds much domestic power, often autonomously, while her husband is working all hours of the day and night. She also holds the purse strings of her husband’s salary which, according to some analysts, is an estimated ¥12.5 trillion in household savings. The Japanese housewife has recently taken on a whole new level of meaning, and is redefining the very concept of domestic housework in the form of online currency trading. With Japan’s interest rates so low which is discouraging households to save, the freshly lucrative, seemingly straightforward and accessible world of online markets and international currency trading are appearing much more favorable for those interested in making a bit of money on the side. However, many of these Japanese housewives are doing much more than that. This year there have been scores of reported cases where women have already had large successes on the world currency market, blithely flipping off the Japanese yen in exchange for much higher interest rates from a multitude of currencies ranging from the Turkish lira to the Omani riyal. For a lot of these housewives, and other young single working women, the advent of currency trading online is one that is approached in a mostly fun and lighthearted fashion. But for many others it is a serious business to the tune of an estimated ¥9.1 billion a day (www.bloggingstocks.com), so much so that back in July even Kiyohiko Nishimura, a board member of Japan’s equivalent of the US Federal Reserve, admitted that Japanese housewife traders were a stabilizing force in the currency markets: this comment made it clear that women were a major player, and were making a significant difference.
So why is it that Japanese housewives are suddenly and so successfully triumphing such gains in a financial world once reserved solely for the slick professional? Foreign currency exchange (FX) trading was trumpeted by one observer as “The new ‘Wild Western Frontier’ of finance,” and it is one of the most fluid markets in the world, largely free of regulations or constraints placed on it by governing factions. It is relatively easy to get into trading online and easy to find a trader to help you with the processes—endless websites offer advice and self–study tutorials with free ‘trial runs.’ One housewife put it succinctly, saying that “from the rise of the information economy women have a distinctive advantage. They are the ones that pay the minutest of attention to the most meager and slight shifts in fashion, the latest hotels and restaurants to go to, popular culture and so on.” It is this natural skill of constant and careful monitoring that she says has helped them work the currency trading market.
Another such housewife, Ms Kei, got involved in the stock and currency markets in 1999 when online trading was still relatively new. She started off in stocks and then dabbled in currency, trading between the Japanese and US currencies, which, in quite an incestuous way, have the lowest commission required as payment when trading between the two. By Ms Kei’s own admission of “chickening out,” she sold her modest ¥100,000 in US currency after only a few months in 2005 as the US dollar at that time was devaluing. Incidentally, according to Bloomberg, as of November 27 in New York, the yen was at its highest against the US dollar since 2005 at 107.23.
Perhaps the majority of these ‘dabblers’ like Ms Kei are trading lowkey and are not moving huge amounts, but there have been some who have been very successful on the currency markets, fashioning a new breed of celebrity housewife, financially independent and self-determined. One such success case is that of Mayumi Torii, as reported by The New York Times back in September, who after making US$150,000 in online margin currency trading created her own group for her fellow savvy housewife traders in Tokyo, the FX Beauties Club, which at that time had 40 members. She has also made appearances on television, written books giving other housewives advice and has her own blog. This year alone has seen eight new investment magazines published in Japan that cater specifically to the housewife trader. This year alone has seen eight new investment magazines published in Japan that cater specifically to the housewife traderThis kind of courting can only reflect the true influence that these women hold, and what a large percentage they represent in the market of trading. Ms Torii is a success story, but there are countless others who, after taking huge risks in unstable markets, have lost a lot, if not all, of the family savings. According to a recent Times article, one such elderly Japanese housewife, Yoshie Akai from Kobe, apparently lost a staggering ¥8 million overnight in a market plummet. This is particularly true since mid-summer of this year because of the credit crisis caused by the American mortgage turmoil which still continues to affect markets. At that time the credit fiasco caused alarm in US hedge funds which in turn drove up the Japanese yen, wiping out many Japanese traders overnight. According to Naoki Hirai at Nomura Securities, foreign exchange trading has become something of an exciting new phenomena in Japan through the very unexpected housewife demographic, young urban female professionals and the elderly alike. However, the very volatility of the market acts as a double-edged sword, creating exciting, fast and seemingly easy returns, while necessitating pedantic and constant daytime monitoring of the exchange rates. It can also bring about huge losses for many, as mentioned previously in relation to the US summer credit crash.
This tumultuous year of trading has brought both exuberant highs and dire lows, for housewives and other traders alike, as is the nature of the trading game. And it will be particularly interesting to monitor this new rise of ‘Domestic Goddess Currency Queens’ in a time when the internet has brought for many the means not just of mere entertainment and trivial surfing, but for ingenious and successful enterprise.JI