Last updated: 09:49 / Wednesday, 3 February 2016
Money Managers Speak out

Japan Lowers Its Rates into Negative Territory: the Currency War Intensifies and Gives Wings to Short-Term Equities

Japan Lowers Its Rates into Negative Territory: the Currency War Intensifies and Gives Wings to Short-Term Equities

In a surprise move, the Bank of Japan decided on Friday to join the ECB's strategy and cut interest rates by 20 basis points, taking rates into negative territory at -0.1% (from the previous + 0.1%) for deposits of financial institutions at the central Japanese bank. The experts are divided: the news will help the markets and an economy with great export weight, but accentuates the currency war spiral to capture very modest overall growth and finally, the consequences may not be as promising.

The adoption of a negative rate helps the Bank of Japan to fight deflation by reducing financial costs, in an attempt to breathe some life into Abenomics, the government’s major plan to revive the economy. The Bank of Japan, which blames oil prices for persistently low inflation in the country, adds this new measure to its program of quantitative easing which involves the annual purchase of 80 trillion yen in assets.

In response, the yen fell sharply against the dollar and other reference currencies like the euro, fueling a currency war which though undeclared, continues to cause panic in the trading rooms of half the financial sector.

In the press conference following the decision, the Bank of Japan’s Governor, Haruhiko Kuroda, stated that he does not rule out expanding the quantitative easing program, which could even include further cuts to increase the dip into negative territory.

“As such this challenges our previous outlook and as a result we are stepping back from some of our long yen currency positions as we reassess the absolute and relative policy stances of developed market central banks,” explained Kevin Adams, Director of Fixed Income atHenderson Global Investors.

Meanwhile, despite the rise in stock markets and debt, Keith Wade, Chief Economist and Strategist at Schroders, believes that the decision is caused by weakness and increases the risk that China may retaliate by further depreciating its currency.“If so, we will have entered a new phase in the currency wars where countries fight over a limited amount of global growth, an outcome which does not bode well for risk assets,” Wade points out.

Equities and fixed income

For Simon Ward, Henderson’s Chief Economist, it is more likely that the move is interpreted by the market as a negative signal for economic prospects, and as evidence of “Bank of Japan’s desperation”. This, claims Ward, will cause the market to be more, rather than less, risk-averse.

In the short term, however, the Bank of Japan has become the investors’ best friend. Japanese stocks rose on Friday and analysts agree that they are likely to continue rising in the short term. Robeco’s portfolio of international equities, Robeco Investment Solutions, is overweight in Japan. “We will obviously continue with this strategy. Our position has been strengthened by the decision of the Bank of Japan,” says Leon Cornelissen, Chief Economist at the firm.

“We believe that the surprise announcement is likely to have an incrementally positive effect on the outlook for Japanese equities, as it tempers the recent concern around the drag of a stronger yen on earnings. We maintain the view that Japanese stocks could withstand a moderate appreciation of the yen,” explains the team at Investec’s multi-asset strategies.

Regarding fixed income, Anjulie Rusius, from the Retail Fixed Interest team at M & G, pointed out that the move by the Japanese central bankhas been supportive of Japanese government bonds, alongside those of other countrieswhich have also adopted negative rate regimes, in a movement which could be repeated in the medium term.