Top government and finance chiefs scrambled Wednesday to defend themselves against accusations by U.S. President Donald Trump that Japan is manipulating currency markets to guide its currency lower.
In Washington on Tuesday, Trump lambasted Tokyo and Beijing for devaluing their currencies, a clear signal of his belief that the two countries are currency manipulators.
“You look at what China’s doing, you look at what Japan has done over the years. They play the money market, they play the devaluation market and we sit there like a bunch of dummies,” he said in a meeting with pharmaceutical company executives.
Rebutting Trump’s criticism, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga argued that Japan’s ultra-loose monetary policy is primarily aimed at busting long-continuing deflation, not pushing down the yen’s value and thereby benefiting export-driven Japanese firms.
“The currency rate has been decided on the currency market,” Suga told a daily news conference Wednesday. “Monetary easing is designed to stabilize domestic price levels, not to let the yen fall.”
But it now appears almost certain that Trump will take up the issue of dollar-yen exchange rates as part of efforts to reduce the U.S. trade deficit when he meets Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the White House on Feb. 10.
The remarks prompted the dollar to fall to about a two-month low of ¥112.08 before recovering close to ¥113.00 in late Tuesday trading in New York. The dollar was trading at ¥113.58 as of 5 p.m. in Tokyo.
The yen also strengthened on a news report that Trump’s trade adviser slammed Germany for using a “grossly undervalued” euro to gain an unfair advantage over the United States and the rest of the European Union.
Trump’s accusation came after Bank of Japan Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda defended its monetary policy earlier Tuesday.
Kuroda told reporters in Tokyo that the nation’s monetary policy “is not targeting exchange rates,” but “is aimed at stabilizing prices and attaining a 2 percent inflation goal as soon as possible.”
Masatsugu Asakawa, vice finance minister for international affairs, repeated a similar view to reporters Wednesday.
Asakawa said Trump’s criticism sounded “a bit untrue” with regard to Japan’s monetary policies, which he said are aimed at fighting deflation.
“I don’t quite understand what (Trump) actually meant,” Asakawa said, noting that it has been a long time since Japan last intervened in currency markets.
Japan’s monetary authorities have not intervened in currency markets since carrying out a yen-selling, dollar-buying operation in November 2011.
Some financial experts have grown concerned that Trump might begin to criticize the Bank of Japan for intentionally devaluing the yen because he appears eager to seek a weaker dollar to boost U.S. exports under his “America First” mantra.
Given the development, the Japanese business community expressed concern about the ramifications of Trump’s claim, with some fearing a stronger yen.
An executive from an automaker said that while it was hard to immediately assess the impact, a stronger yen “would really hurt.”
Other Japanese business people cited the threat to domestic demand and corporate earnings if the yen were to strengthen.
An official of a major steel company expressed concern, saying that if exporters like carmakers began producing less, demand for steel would drop.
Industrial conglomerate Toshiba Corp. could even fall into negative net worth if the value of its foreign-denominated assets declines because of a strengthening yen. Toshiba recently warned that it already expects to book a charge of “several billion dollars” to write down the value of its U.S. nuclear business.
Moreover, the yen’s appreciation could hurt Toshiba’s profitable chip operation, which the company sees as a key driver of its revival.
But many people in the business community also said it was too early to react to every word Trump utters as his administration has just begun its work.