The yen tumbled in Tokyo trading Tuesday, logging levels in the 147 yen range for the first time in roughly eight years, bringing down stock prices and Japanese government bonds with it.
At 5 p.m. in Tokyo, the yen was pegged at 147.40-42 yen after falling past its previous low for the year of 146.75 yen. The currency’s performance led traders at the Tokyo Stock Exchange to sell unpopular issues such as domestic banks, causing the benchmark Nikkei average to close lower for the seventh straight trading day.
It marked the first time since February 1996 that the Nikkei average continued its decline for seven business days. The bleak situation in Tokyo financial markets was compounded by the declines seen in other bourses in Asia, with the Hang Seng Index in Hong Kong falling below the 7,000 mark.
In Singapore, stocks nosedived, playing follow-the-leader with the yen and other Asian currencies. The key Straits Times Industrial Index sank 31.34 points, or 3 percent, from Friday to close at 1,007.93, its lowest level in almost 10 years.
Malaysia’s stock prices also tumbled; there, poor corporate performances triggered the fall. Kuala Lumpur’s key index lost 18.58 points, 5.26 percent, from Monday to close at 334.70.
Meanwhile, the Malaysian ringgit fell in line with the yen and a cut in interest rates by the central bank.
In Tokyo, foreign exchange dealers said the yen’s weakness reflects market participants’ lack of conviction about Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi’s ability to steer Japan’s economy out of its slump.
There were also lingering concerns over whether the government can secure swift Diet passage of key bills to deal with the massive amount of nonperforming loans held by the nation’s financial institutions.
The bills are needed to create the legal framework for “bridge banks,” which will protect healthy borrowers of failed financial institutions and contain the negative effects of financial failures.
The yen’s decline accelerated after clearing 147 yen, which had been seen by market participants as the “mental barrier” where the currency would dig in its heels and hold.
Market players said they remained cautious about possible yen-buying intervention to stem the yen’s rapid depreciation, but many also noted that there was little reason to purchase the Japanese currency.
Some indicated that the yen might slip below the 150 yen mark in the days ahead unless Tokyo comes up with specific policies to resuscitate the economy.
At the TSE, dealers shed shares of major banks such as Long-Term Credit Bank of Japan and Sanwa Bank.
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