The European Central Bank does not provide direct support to eurozone countries by buying new bonds. However, it can give indirect support by helping banks buy such bonds. In a move announced on 8 December, the ECB will increase the maximum term of its ‘longer-term refinancing operations’ (LTROs) from the current 13 months to three years. In other words, it will effectively provide three-year loans to banks by purchasing banks’ assets on a ‘repurchase (repo)’ basis, whereby banks agree to buy back the assets at the end of the three-year term.
The hope is that banks will use these loans (at an annual rate of 1%) to purchase new bonds from countries such as Italy and Spain. If banks are more willing to buy them, this should help reduce the interest rate at which governments are forced to borrow. Banks would benefit from the ‘carry trade’, whereby they borrow at a low interest rate (from the ECB) and lend at a higher rate to governments by buying their bonds.
To encourage banks to take advantage of these new longer-term repos,the ECB announced that the assets it was prepared to purchase would include securitised assets with a rating of single A (the highest rating is AAA). In other words, it would accept assets with a ‘second-best rating’.
But although the scheme would allow banks to make a clear gain from a carry trade, banks may be reluctant to use such loans to increase their holdings of sovereign debt of countries with large debt to GDP ratios, given concerns in the market about the riskiness of such assets.
Articles and podcast
ECB repo extension a fillip for sovereigns Financial News, Matt Turner (15/12/11)
Doubts over ECB move to boost bond sales Financial Times, Tracy Alloway (15/12/11)
ECB Chief Plays Down Hopes for Bigger Bond Purchases Wall Street Journal, Tom Fairless And Margit Feher (15/12/11)
Eurozone crisis ‘misdiagnosed’ BBC Today Programme, George Magnus (16/12/11) (second part of podcast)
Banks snap up €500bn in loans from European Central Bank Guardian. Larry Elliott (22/12/11)
Analysis: ECB cash to give indirect boost via banks Reuters, Natsuko Waki and Steve Slater (22/12/11)
Demand for ECB loans rises to €489bn Financial Times, Tracy Alloway and Ralph Atkins (21/12/11)
ECB’s rescue of eurozone banks is temporary BBC News, Robert Peston (21/12/11)
ECB Press release
ECB announces measures to support bank lending and money market activity ECB (8/12/11)
- Explain how repos work. What is the difference between repos and reverse repos?
- What is meant by the term ‘carry trade’?
- Why may banks be unwilling to gain from the carry trade possibilities of the ECB’s new 3-year LTROs by using them to fund the purchase of new sovereign bonds? What risks are entailed by their doing so?
- How do these new long-term repo operations differ from quantitative easing? Explain whether or not the effect is likely to be similar
- What are the arguments for and against the ECB engaging in a round of substantial quantitative easing?
For the past three years the Japanese yen has been appreciating against the US dollar and many other currencies. From the end of June 2007 to 14 September 2010, the yen appreciated from ¥100 = $0.81 to ¥100 = $1.20 (a 48% appreciation). Over the same period the yen exchange rate index rose from 113.3 to 172.4 (a 52% appreciation). The rising yen has been impeding Japan’s recovery as it has made its exports more expensive, while, at the same time, making imports cheaper and thus making it harder for domestic firms to compete.
Until 14 September 2010, the yen was freely floating. But on 15 September, the Japanese central bank decided to intervene by selling yen and buying dollars and other currencies.
But why had the yen risen so strongly? There are four main reasons.
The first is the persistent Japanese trade surpluses, partly stimulated by falling costs of production in Japan.
The second is the unwinding of the carry trade. Before the banking crisis of 2007/8, many banks and other financial institutions borrowed yen, given the low interest rates in Japan, and used the yen to purchase dollars and pounds, given the much higher interest rates in the USA and the UK. The effect of this ‘carry trade’, as it was known, was to drive up the exchange rates of the dollar and sterling and drive down the value of the yen. This encouraged further speculation as people sold yen in anticipation of further depreciation and purchased dollars and sterling in anticipation of further appreciation. With the banking crisis, however, short-term financial flows decreased and the current account became more important in determining exchange rates. The carry trade began to unwind and people began selling dollars and sterling and buying yen. What is more, towards the end of 2008, interest rates were reduced substantially in the USA and the UK in order to stimulate aggregate demand. The interest rate differential between Japan and the USA and UK virtually disappeared. This further encouraged the purchase of yen and the sale of dollars and sterling as carry trade investors began paying back their loans to Japan.The third reason for the appreciation of the yen is the actions of the Chinese who have used their surpluses to buy other currencies: originally mainly dollars, but increasingly yen.
The fourth reason is speculation. As the yen has risen, so increasingly people have bought yen in anticipation of further appreciation. But, of course, this speculation has brought about the very effect the speculators anticipated. Such speculation can be very powerful, given that some $4 trillion goes across the foreign exchange markets every day (see The inexorable growth of FOREX).
So will the intervention by the Bank of Japan be successful in causing the yen to depreciate? Or will the forces that drove up the yen prove impossible to resist? The following articles consider this question and also look at the factors that caused the yen to appreciate and its effects on the Japanese economy.
Japan’s $21b move to weaken yen may be futile Sydney Morning Herald (16/9/10)
Japan acts to weaken surging yen Guardian, Larry Elliott and Graeme Wearden (15/9/10)
Q+A: How is Japan judging success in yen intervention? Reuters, Hideyuki Sano and Charlotte Cooper (17/9/10)
Tokyo action puts brake on yen Financial Times, Peter Garnham (17/9/10)
It’s hard to keep a strong yen down CTV, Canada, Brian Milner (16/9/10)
Firm stance on yen stressed / Govt, BOJ strike decisive pose, but drastic action still required Daily Yomiuri, Japan, Tadashi Isozumi and Yomiuri Shimbun (16/9/10)
Bernanke Shadow of Easing Limits BOJ Success With Yen Weakness Bloomberg, Ron Harui and Joshua Zumbrun (17/9/10)
The Bank Of Japan Is Spitting In The Wind Wall Street Journal blogs: The Source, Nicholas Hastings (16/9/10)
Japan intervenes in markets to combat rising yen BBC News, Mariko Oi (15/9/10)
Q&A: What’s moving the Japanese yen? BBC News (15/9/10)
Currency intervention’s mixed record of success BBC News, Russell Hotten (16/9/10)
Yen intervention: Because I Kan The Economist (16/9/10)
Beggar, then sneakily enrich, thy neighbour The Economist (15/9/10)
The yen and gold The Economist, Buttonwood (15/9/10)
Dollar/yen exchange rate X-rates.com
Statistical Interactive Database – interest and exchange rates data Bank of England
Currencies BBC News
Currency converter Yahoo Finance
- Why has the Japanese yen appreciated so much over the past three years?
- What will be the effect of the Bank of Japan’s exchange market intervention on Japanese money supply? What will determine the size of this effect?
- Why might the Bank of Japan’s actions have been influenced by the anticipation of further quantitative easing by the US Federal Reserve Bank?
- What factors determine the likely success of foreign exchange market intervention by central banks?
- What will determine how speculators will react to the Bank of Japan’s actions?
- Discuss the following quote from the second The Economist article above: “A bit of inflation in Japan wouldn’t just be a good thing. It would be a really, really great thing. And if other countries react to Japan’s intervention by attempting to print and sell their own currencies in order to toss the deflationary potato to someone else, well then so much the better.”
- If all countries seek to achieve export-led growth, is this a zero-sum game?
- Why has the price of gold been rising?