Former vice finance minister Sakakibara sees end to era of weaker yen

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The era of a weaker yen is coming to an end and Japan’s currency may strengthen toward 115 per dollar, according to Eisuke Sakakibara, a former vice finance minister.

The yen was little changed at 119.42 per dollar as of 5 p.m. in Tokyo Friday, after surging 0.5 percent the previous day when the U.S. Federal Reserve kept its policy rate unchanged.

The currency has rebounded since reaching a 13-year low of 125.86 in June. When asked about the Fed’s decision to stand pat, Sakakibara said: “The impact is not really that strong” on Japan.

“The period of cheap yen is beginning to be over and I think gradually the yen-dollar rate will move toward the range of 115 to 120,” Sakakibara, 74, now a professor at Aoyama Gakuin University, said in an interview in Tokyo. It is unlikely that the Japanese currency will decline toward 125 for “some time to come,” he added.

The yen has weakened about 30 percent since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came to power at the end of 2012 pledging to pull the world’s third-largest economy out of a deflationary spiral.

The Japanese currency is heading for a second weekly gain this month after the Fed showed a reluctance to end an era of record monetary stimulus in a time of market turmoil, rising international risks and slow inflation at home.

The Bank of Japan this week also refrained from boosting stimulus even after the economy shrank last quarter, betting that a resumption in growth will be enough to rekindle inflation.

“The BOJ will likely start seeking an exit when the Fed raises rates,” Sakakibara said. “When we enter that phase, the yen isn’t going to weaken.”

For the third straight quarter Fed officials lowered projections for the funds rate in coming years, saying in a statement that “recent global economic and financial developments may restrain economic activity somewhat and are likely to put further downward pressure on inflation in the near term.”

“The yen may trade slightly stronger with the delay in the Fed’s rate hike and global economic uncertainty,” Sakakibara said. “The yen has a strong aspect as a safe haven, drawing money toward it.”

Unless the global economic situation deteriorates further, the BOJ is unlikely to add stimulus this year or next, Sakakibara said. The planned consumption tax increase in 2017 may be a trigger for further stimulus, he said.

“The sales tax increase could hamper the economy and could prompt the BOJ to take aggressive monetary easing if necessary,” he said.

BOJ Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda has said the central bank will not hesitate to ease if there is some danger of prices not rising to its target. With the BOJ’s inflation gauge at zero, some officials see a growing chance of another delay in reaching their 2 percent goal.

“Mr. Kuroda’s monetary policy, aggressive easing of the monetary policy, has worked during the last couple of years,” Sakakibara said. “And both Mr. Abe and Mr. Kuroda are quite content with the current state of the economy.”