The bond vigilantes are getting antsy about Shinzo Abe’s shock-therapy program, dubbed “Abenomics.”
The reference here is to traders who protest fiscal or monetary policies that they consider inflationary, and they sell bonds. Japan has become their latest target. Yields on benchmark government bonds rose to the 1 percent mark briefly last week amid concerns that radical Bank of Japan policies will raise interest rates and worsen an already-crushing debt burden.
Some increase in yields should be expected as the BOJ tries to end deflation. A central tenet of Abenomics, after all, is to push investors away from bonds and toward stocks in order to buttress confidence. What made the yield increase different was its speed and how assertively the BOJ charged into the market. It injected an additional ¥2 trillion ($19.4 billion) into the financial system to stem volatility, pushing yields back to 0.85 percent.
Still, Thursday’s mini-panic in the equities market shows investors are worried about the side effects of Abe’s policies. The Tokyo Stock Price Index tumbled almost 7 percent, the most since the aftermath of the March 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster. Financial firms took a market-value beating, and a flurry of sell orders triggered a halt in index futures in Osaka.
The BOJ is creating a pattern here. Several times in recent weeks, it has effectively intervened in the debt market. It’s a reminder that Japan’s effort to end a two-decade-long funk won’t unfold as smoothly as Abenomics’ loudest cheerleaders had hoped. Nothing would destabilize the world’s third-biggest economy more than a surge in debt yields.
In Japan, the term “bond investor” is remarkably broad. Government IOUs are the main financial asset held by banks, pension funds, insurance companies, government-run institutions, the postal savings system and individuals. A big jump in yields would hurt virtually every corner of a $5.9 trillion economy.
That’s why BOJ Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda is trying so hard to hold off the bond vigilantes. Well, for as long as he can.
William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.