TT-705 -- Dangers of Japan's Quantitative Easing Plans, e-biz news from Japan

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A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.

General Edition Sunday, Apr 07, 2013, Issue No. 705


- What's New -- Dangers of Japan's Quantitative Easing
- News -- Fukushima radiation causing sick kids in US?
- Upcoming Events
- Corrections/Feedback
- Travel Picks -- Geto Onsen, Iwate and Ueno Park, Tokyo
- News Credits

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On Thursday last week, under the influence of PM Shinzo Abe, the Bank of Japan declared its new strategy for fighting deflation. The bank said it would embark on its own version of America's Quantitative Easing (QE) program, having the bank buy huge amounts of government issued bonds, as well as buying publicly traded stocks and several other types of securities.

Just how huge is this? Well the bank says it will buy about JPY50trn of Japanese Government Bonds (JGBs) a year, which is less than the US$85bn/month that Ben Bernanke is spending in the USA, but not by much. Given that the US has an economy more than two and half times that of Japan's, the true scale of the BoJ's action is about 50% per capita more than the US Fed. Awesome... or foolhardy.

Since his pending re-election last November, Abe has been promising to re-inflate the economy, giving fair warning to currency traders to "watch out below". Thus he has been able by degrees to bring down the yen by almost 20% versus the dollar. Recently, though, he has run the risk of being the boy who cried "Wolf!" once too often, and sure enough when Cyprus had a run on its banks in March, the yen shot straight back up again as traders sought it as safe haven.

So it would have been with some satisfaction to Abe that the BoJ announcement this week had strong shock value. Currency traders were not ready for the Thursday announcement by newly appointed BoJ Governor, Haruhiko Kuroda, that the bank would double its purchases of JGBs, as well as buying a range of other riskier securities, and they were caught on the hop. Consequently, the yen fell by more then 3% against the dollar in just one day, and now pundits are predicting that it will hit 100+ to the dollar by the end of the year (or more likely by the end of this month?).

So is there any downside to the Japanese government printing more money and pretending that everything is going to be OK? After all, the Americans have done it for years and the world is still in one piece.

[Continued below...]

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[...Article continues]

We suppose it depends on your point of view. For the time being Abe is taking a leaf from Ben Bernanke's book, and is looking to simply stimulate the economy and overcome the over-cautious nature of Japan's investors and companies. As Keynes would have it, you sometimes need a government stimulus to "awaken the animal spirits" of the market, and it's hard to argue against Japan needing some kind of major kick start, given two decades of near-continuous decline... Oh, except, for the inconvenient fact that it's been tried at least 3-4 times before and each time the main result was just an increase government debt and more malaise.

So what's different this time?

Firstly, the sheer size of the program. The JPY50trn a year in JGBs will be about 10% of Japan’s GDP. In contrast, the US Federal Reserve's bond purchases have run around 6.8% of GDP. Also, they were phased, so that the Fed could assess how much it was goosing the economy before going in for more. The Japanese on the other hand are simply jumping in boots and all.

Secondly, Japan seems to have some sympathy and support from other developed nations about its moves. Indeed, there are some interesting discussions on about just how coordinated the central banks in the developed economies are these days. One writer asserts that as the US economy starts to recover, its QE(3) actions will be curtailed and it will be Japan's turn to open the fiscal faucets for a while -- then perhaps Europe's after that, although Europe has all kinds of pesky laws governing the independence of its central bank. So just how long Japan will be able to "devalue" its currency is a good question. Will it be long enough for Abe to undertake structural reforms, which will be necessary to carry the economy after the QE actions have run their course?

Thirdly, Abe does seem to be ready to undertake those structural reforms. With the exception of Koizumi, Abe appears to be pushing his key constituents harder for change than any LDP politician in living memory. Of course there are probably lots of backdoor deals being done, but still, the opposition to government initiatives have been remarkably tame so far. You have the farmers reluctantly swallowing the TPP discussions, the medical sector facing up to online drug sales, and education getting a rewrite of what is expected from teachers (but in a retrograde nationalistic direction in our opinion).

While bold action by the government has been sorely needed, there is something about this latest plan that doesn't feel right. Most economists tell us that apart from rising import costs, the trading of debt between two arms of the government to monetize that debt is basically a safe way to get businesses and individuals investing again -- because it costs the government nothing, and creates inflation and thus an environment where it is logical for the citizenry to invest rather than watch one's savings erode. But while Bernanke was able to pull it off in the USA, we wonder if Japan isn't opening itself up to some major risks?

1. Everyone seems quite sanguine about the idea of increasing the cost of imports. After all, Japan can do without imports can't it? They do make everything needed, right here don't they? Well, not quite. For a start, there is the small issue of food and fuel. More than half of Japan's food and almost all its fuel is imported, so not only will the consumption tax increase be hitting the consumer in the next 12 months, but they will also have to deal with a major decline in the yen. This is bound to cause pessimism among consumers and as we know: depressed consumers => constrained spending => deflation.

2. George Soros, Japan-bear Kyle Bass and a number of other notable investors have warned that the Japanese QE program is so sudden and huge that the BoJ may overshoot its targets and cause a run by Japanese "Mrs Watanabe" investors into foreign currencies. If this was to happen, it would not only accelerate the sinking yen but also cause a sharp rise in interest rates, which would be devastating to Small- to Medium-Sized (SME) companies. It would also force up the amount of debt interest payments the government would have to make.

3. Adding significant sums to the national debt through QE won't be of any benefit if inflation isn't created as a result. The Japanese public has been served up so many false dawns before, that one suspects they no longer believe in government macro policies. This means it will take time to change an ingrained psychology, which may sink the whole initiative. Recent news reports indicate that most Japanese companies (mostly they are SMEs, not rich exporter multinationals) have no plans to increase wages any time soon, and instead are looking to continue their head cutting efforts. Thus, if younger consumers can't get access to funds to spend, they won't consume, and producers won't be able to raise prices.

4. We read a well-reasoned argument recently that if Japan does see the yen drop rapidly and significantly, this may destabilize the Korean Won and cause another financial crash in that country, with possible knock-on effects for China as well. While Japan may not really care what happens across the Japan Sea, a financial crash in Korea would affect market confidence globally -- especially in Europe.

We certainly hope that Abe's big gamble pays off -- Japan's SMEs deserve a break. However, if you don't see consumer spending and inflation pick up by the end of the year, probably it will be fair to say that the QE effort will have failed, and the government will have moved closer to a tipping point in its own ability to raise future funds and stave off a debt trap. And that will be an interesting time indeed...

...The information janitors/


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+++ NEWS

- Mitsui buys leading German dental materials co.
- Olympus sells dental unit as well
- 100k NTT Goo user accounts hacked
- Feed-in tariffs fall by 10%
- Fukushima radiation causing sick kids in US?

=> Mitsui buys leading German dental materials co.

Mitsui Chemicals has announced that it will buy the dental materials business of Heraeus Holdings, of Germany. Heraeus is the second largest supplier of dental materials globally, and the deal is likely to send shock waves through the industry. Mitsui is buying Heraeus' 300m Euros of revenues and sales network in 20 countries for JPY50bn. ***Ed: Pretty decent price, given that Mitsui now has access to a massive sales network without all the regulatory challenges it would otherwise have to face.** (Source: TT commentary from, Apr 4, 2013)

=> Olympus sells dental unit as well

We were going to report this one last week, but it matches up well with the Mitsui deal above... Olympus the week before last announced that it will sell four medical units to Noritsu Koki for between JPY6bn-JPY7bn. The units include Feed Corporation, a leading dental supplies catalog company based in Kanagawa. ***Ed: Interestingly, Olympus bought FEED in 2008 from the founder for JPY1.8bn. Dental is a flat but profitable business in Japan, and the Feed and Mitsui deals show that there is a major realignment going on in the industry.** (Source: TT commentary from, Mar 29, 2013)

=> 100k NTT Goo user accounts hacked

NTT's Goo portal has reported that up to 100,000 user accounts were hacked earlier this week, with user names and financial information such as credit cards and bank data being stolen. They refer to a "brute force" attack, which generally refers to intensive password cracking. At the same time, Yahoo Japan also suffered a breach, with a trojan on one of its servers busy harvesting information on 1.27m users. Yahoo reckons that it shut down the trojan before the data could be sent externally. (Source: TT commentary from, Apr 4, 2013)

=> Feed-in tariffs fall by 10%

The highly incentivizing feed-in tariffs being supplied to alternative energy suppliers by the Japanese government to wean Japan off nuclear power, have been cut by 10% as of April 1st. The old rate was JPY42/kWh, while the new rate is JPY37.8/kWh. Experts are saying that the lower rates are still 300% higher than incentives offered in Germany and China, thus ensuring that Japan will become the world's 3rd largest solar panel market by the end of this year. (Source: TT commentary from, Apr 5, 2013)

=> Fukushima radiation causing sick kids in US?

A study by the US-based Radiation and Public Health Project has found that US children born around the pacific rim shortly after the Fukushima nuclear accident have a 28% greater chance of having congenital hypothyroidism than those living elsewhere or born before the disaster. Untreated the disease can cause body and brain handicaps. The US tests all kids for hyperthyroidism one month after birth. (Source: TT commentary from, Apr 6, 2013)

NOTE: Broken links
Some online news sources remove their articles after just a few days of posting them, thus breaking our links -- we apologize for the inconvenience.



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This position offers an excellent opportunity for recent college graduates and candidates with some sales/business related experience to develop their selling skills, enhance their mastery of the IT business and improve their English language ability. Due to the technical nature of this job, business or fluent level Japanese and at least intermediate English is required.

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- Country Manager, global payment services provider, JPY12M - 25M
- Data Center Operator, global financial services company, JPY3M - 5M
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In this section we run comments and corrections submitted by readers. We encourage you to spot our mistakes and amplify our points, by email, to

=> No corrections this week.


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=> Ueno Park, Tokyo's first public park

When I first arrived in Tokyo, I spent a lot of time wandering around trying to get my bearings (often much easier said than done). One sweltering September afternoon, with sore feet from the previous day’s hike, I found myself wondering whether there was perhaps a nice, convenient location that had a bit of everything. Maybe some shrines, a couple of temples, a large pond (preferably covered in lotus plants), a zoo, several museums and galleries, a few cafes, a baseball ground, a large concert hall, and a good chance of seeing some high quality street performers. You’d never guess, but Ueno Park has got it all!

The park has an upper section and a lower section. In the upper section you can find the beautiful and very different Gojo and Toshogu Shrines, as well as the Kiyomizu Kannon Temple and Buddhist stupa. Also on this level are the zoo, a children’s play area, and four major museums: Tokyo National Museum, the National Science Museum, the National Museum of Western Art, and Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum (reopened as of 1st April 2012).

=> Geto Onsen, A long, hot soak in an old-world Iwate hot spring

Located in the heart of the stunning Kurikoma National Park at the end of a narrow winding road which snakes through the hills of Iwate is Geto Onsen. It’s an unusual, slightly quirky and, above all, beautiful place to have a soak. Geto Onsen is located on the banks of a narrow and shallow river. Its waters are crystal clear and cool. Rising up from the river is a magnificent rock face, in some parts bare while in others covered in dense foliage, which is simply breathtaking, especially in autumn with the leaves changing to a deep red.

The older part of the onsen (hot spring) is refreshingly basic. There are only five baths, and they are housed in buildings that are open, to a greater or lesser extent, to the elements: there are roofs and pillars but no actual walls, which allows one to enjoy the unparalleled beauty of the surrounding countryside. With only five baths a way of accommodating males and females had to be arrived at. This has been achieved by establishing different opening times for men and women. One of the baths is, however, mixed, which is now very rare.



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