Exporters say they need still more action to lower yen

by Makiko Kitamura and Yuki Hagiwara

Bloomberg

Japanese exporters are calling for more action to weaken the near-record high yen even after government intervention prompted the currency’s biggest drop since March.

“The exchange rate is at a level that has an extremely damaging effect on the Japanese economy,” Osamu Masuko, president of Mitsubishi Motors Corp., said Thursday by email. He said he welcomed the intervention, “but the resulting exchange rate still isn’t acceptable.”

The yen Thursday touched 80 to the dollar for the first time since July 12 after the government sold the currency and the Bank of Japan added to monetary stimulus measures. That still may not be enough for exporters, including Mitsubishi Motors, Toyota Motor Corp. and Sony Corp., whose overseas earnings have been crimped by the currency’s jump of about 8.6 percent in a year.

“It’s like scratching your foot without taking your shoe off — it’s not enough at all,” said Atsushi Horiba, president at Kyoto-based Horiba Ltd., the world’s biggest maker of devices to measure automobile emissions. The government is “too slow and it should have responded much earlier.”

The yen was trading around 79.19 per dollar in Tokyo on Friday, after tumbling 2.3 percent Thursday. That was the biggest decline since March 18, when the Group of Seven nations jointly sold the currency following a jump to a postwar record high of ¥76.25 per dollar.

Japan unilaterally sold the yen and the Bank of Japan expanded its asset-purchase fund to ¥15 trillion from ¥10 trillion to arrest a currency surge caused by investors seeking safe havens amid U.S. and European debt concerns. The Swiss central bank also unexpectedly cut interest rates this week to stem gains in the franc.

“I believe all companies were waiting for some kind of action from the government,” said Minoru Mitsuda, executive officer at Mazda Motor Corp. Though the government’s actions are “minimal, any positive moves are welcome.”

Mitsuda said he had “no idea” what impact the intervention would have on the yen in the longer term because a mix of different political and economic factors had caused the yen to strengthen.

Mazda, which exports about 80 percent of its cars, based its business forecasts on an average exchange rate of ¥83 to the dollar this year, and ¥113 for the euro.

The government should have acted sooner and done more as companies are also struggling to handle cuts in electricity following the March 11 earthquake, said Hiromasa Yonekura, chairman of the Keidanren business lobby and Sumitomo Chemical Co.

“The intervention came too late,” he said. “Important relief measures that won’t accelerate deflation are still necessary.”

Toyota has said that every ¥1 gain against the dollar cuts operating profit by ¥34 billion, according to its current full-year outlook, which is based on ¥80 to the dollar.

Nissan Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co. expected the same exchange rate.

The yen’s strength is making it difficult for Toyota to compete with South Korean rival Hyundai Motor Co., which also benefits from lower labor costs, Senior Managing Director Takahiko Ijichi said Tuesday.

Toyota will “continue to observe the currency markets carefully,” spokesman Keisuke Kirimoto said.

The automaker has already moved domestic production to areas of Japan with lower wages to help cut costs. It has pledged to keep output at home to 3 million vehicles a year. Toyota built 43 percent of its vehicles in Japan last year.

Nissan and Honda have cut their reliance on domestic plants to less than 30 percent, reducing the effect of the stronger yen on their earnings.

The intervention may help stop more companies moving production overseas, said Tadashi Okamura, chairman of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The move was timely and would help stabilize the Japanese economy and markets, he said.

“I think it’s a good thing for Japanese industry as a whole,” Sony Executive Deputy President Kazuo Hirai said.

The weakness of the U.S. and European economies means the yen is unlikely to climb above 90 to the dollar for at least four years, even with more intervention, said Yoshiaki Kawano, a Tokyo-based analyst for IHS Automotive.

“For Japanese exporters, it will be difficult for them to maintain their current level of domestic production,” he said. “They will need to continue to restructure and cut costs to cope with the currency situation.”