Business / Economy

LDP lawmaker calls for yen to strengthen to 100

by Masaaki Iwamoto and Kyoko Shimodoi

Bloomberg

The yen is too weak and is squeezing many companies with higher import costs, according to Taro Kono, a lawmaker in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party.

Parts makers for large corporations are being particularly hard hit, said Kono, 52, who worked for a supplier to exporters including Toyota Motor Corp. for three years before he entered the Diet in 1996.

While large companies selling products abroad benefit from the currency’s depreciation as the value of earnings overseas rise when they are repatriated in yen, domestic suppliers pay higher prices and have seen little growth in sales, he said.

“I’ve been thinking that the yen around 100 per dollar would be appropriate,” Kono said in an interview Tuesday. “There is nothing good about the yen falling to 120 per dollar as long as export volumes don’t increase.”

Kono’s comments add to signs of concern from some policymakers and politicians that the yen’s 29 percent drop since Abe came to office two years ago is taking too high a toll in some parts of the economy.

The yen, which has not touched 100 since November 2013, traded at around 119.80 on Thursday.

Kono was a managing director at Nippon Tanshi Co., which is based in Kanagawa Prefecture, and produces electronic connectors.

Some policymakers in the Bank of Japan view further monetary easing to shore up inflation as a counterproductive step for now, amid concern it could trigger declines in the yen that damage confidence, sources familiar with talks at the central bank told Bloomberg News last month.

Masahiko Shibayama, the LDP’s finance panel chief, said he’s concerned about any further weakness in the yen. “I don’t think the reflationary policies are bad, but we’re in a tight spot right now with nationwide local elections just two months away,” Shibayama said last month.

BOJ Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda has said movements in the yen are not bad for the economy as long as they reflect fundamentals, while it is desirable for exchange rates to be stable.

Etsuro Honda, an adviser to Abe, said Feb. 20 that the yen between 117 and 120 per dollar is a comfortable level and any further decline to 130 or 140 per dollar could do more harm than good for the economy.

While export volumes from Japan rose just 0.6 percent in 2014, after falling 1.5 percent in 2013, there have been signs of more improvement this year.

Exports valued in yen jumped 17 percent to ¥6.1 trillion in January from a year earlier, the biggest gain since November 2013. Measured in volume, shipments increased 11 percent, the most since December 2010.

Kono, who is a member of LDP’s committee on fiscal consolidation, also said the government should put a legal cap on spending to achieve the target of turning the country’s primary budget balance to a surplus in the fiscal year starting from April 2020.

Welfare, public works and government staffing costs all need to be controlled to help meet the goal, he said.

The government estimates the primary balance will be in a deficit of ¥9.4 trillion in the fiscal 2020, even if real gross domestic product expands more than 2 percent each year.

Growth of 2 percent for real GDP growth is “unrealistic,” said Kono.

“The government probably needs to both cut spending and increase taxes,” he said.

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