As the prospect of a tight U.S. presidential race continues to leave financial markets in a state of uncertainty, Japanese companies remain on alert for any clues that could prompt them to change their business plans.
The yen’s strengthening against the dollar, in particular, is expected to become a headwind for major exporters that have reaped the benefits of a profit-boosting weak yen.
Japanese executives and analysts are trying to gauge the implications of what some U.S. media are now describing as a neck-and-neck race, for U.S. economic, trade and currency policies.
Some currency analysts expect the dollar to take a sharp fall against the yen if Republican candidate Donald Trump, viewed as more protectionist on trade and in favor of a weaker dollar, wins the election, and uncertainty heightens on future economic policies under his presidency.
A victory for his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, could give a boost to the U.S. currency as she is largely expected to maintain the status quo after President Barack Obama leaves the White House, the analysts said.
Seiji Kuraishi, executive vice president of Honda Motor Co., said the outcome of the U.S. election is among many uncertain factors at present. “We haven’t seen a big impact so far, but there is a sense of uncertainty (over the business outlook),” Kuraishi told reporters.
Honda has cut its assumed dollar-yen exchange rate by ¥2 from its earlier estimate released in May to ¥103 in fiscal 2016, sharply down from ¥120 in fiscal 2015.
Compared with a year ago, Japan’s third-largest automaker by volume expects a ¥370 billion ($3.6 billion) negative impact from unfavorable currency moves in the business year and is seeking to mitigate it through cost-cutting and other efforts.
Rivals Mazda Motor Corp. and Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., the manufacturer of Subaru brand cars, have both cut their full-year earnings forecasts, taking into account the yen’s strength.
A healthy U.S. economy is expected to be a plus for Japanese exporters, especially automakers that have so far enjoyed robust sales in North America even when demand remains weak at home.
The U.S. Federal Reserve has kept monetary policy unchanged in the run-up to the election, but indicated the U.S. economy is gathering momentum and the case is building for an interest rate hike.
Still, Yuji Kameoka, chief foreign exchange analyst at Daiwa Securities Co., said a win for Trump will likely rattle financial markets and raise the prospect that the Fed will delay an interest rate hike.
“It appears that the market is still pricing in a Clinton win (despite recent volatility),” Kameoka said. He expects the dollar to fall below the ¥100 line if Trump wins and market players to become risk-averse and buy the Japanese currency, which is regarded as a safe haven.
The presidential election comes at a time when Japan’s earnings reporting season is expected to reveal the struggles of export-reliant companies that have tried to reduce exposure to currency volatility.
An increasing number of companies have so far reported smaller profits in the April-September half than a year ago and cut earnings forecasts as they took a beating from the strong yen.
“It’s difficult to respond to short-term changes (in currency moves),” Panasonic Corp. President Kazuhiro Tsuga said after his company downgraded its full-year operating profit outlook by ¥65 billion from its earlier estimate to ¥245 billion.
After years of restructuring, Sony Corp. is also trying to address the yen’s appreciation, which would hurt the profits generated from its cash-making image sensors and gaming units following the release of the PlayStation VR headset.
The yen’s strength is adding to the gloom for trading houses that have suffered losses from volatile commodity markets. Although a recent surge in coal prices, largely attributed to China’s move toward cutting output, is expected to help increase profitability in the business year, trading houses are trying to shift to non-resource businesses for the longer term.
“When it comes to the U.S. presidential race, the biggest point is, in effect, how it will affect exchange rates,” Seiichi Tanaka, chief financial officer at Sojitz Corp., said following its earnings release.
“For the second half, we are concerned that the yen will strengthen further. But we also do business in emerging markets in Asia and elsewhere, so weakening local currencies due to capital outflows are a concern because they would have a big impact,” Tanaka said.
A further strengthening of the yen could make corporate executives even more reluctant to increase future investment, according to analysts.
“Based on the assumption that the dollar will move between ¥100 and ¥110 over the mid- to long term, we want to make a longer-term strategy,” Panasonic’s Tsuga said.
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