Business / Financial Markets | CURRENCY MARKET

Good time to buy yen with your dollars, history suggests

by Chikafumi Hodo

Bloomberg

The last quarter of 2019 has been painful for yen bulls, but if history is any guide, good times may be just around the corner.

January has typically proved to be a favorable month for Japan’s currency, bringing gains against the dollar in seven of the last 10 years. Some Tokyo-based strategists expect a repeat in 2020.

The case for a stronger yen is backed by a seasonal pattern that sees the greenback typically weaken at the start of the year, as global investors sell their dollar holdings to make fresh investments overseas, according to Credit Agricole CIB.

The investment bank expects the dollar to also be pressured by the unwinding of positions by Chinese market participants ahead of the Lunar New Year holidays.

The dollar has gained against the yen “only once since 2014 in January,” said Yuji Saito, executive director of Credit Agricole’s foreign exchange department in Tokyo.

“Considering this, traders may want to sell the dollar around the end of the year or early next year.”

Bolstering predictions for a rebound, the yen has been sold off in the lead-up to the end of 2019. Demand has been sapped by improving U.S.-China trade relations, signs of a revival in global manufacturing and a decisive U.K. election result.

Japan’s is the sole Group of 10 currency to weaken against the greenback this quarter, having lost 1 percent since Sept. 30.

However, the dollar’s ascent vis-a-vis the yen has petered out in recent days amid thinned holiday trading as the pair approached the psychologically significant ¥110 level.

“There is nervousness about buying the dollar actively as the yen’s January upswing has been pretty big in recent years,” said Takuya Kanda, general manager of Gaitame.com Research Institute Ltd. in Tokyo.

Market participants are also wary given the flash crash episode seen back in January of 2019, when the dollar plummeted more than 4 percent against the yen in a few minutes, he said.

In contrast, Mizuho Securities Co. sees little chance for the yen to appreciate next month.

The yen’s strength in January in recent years has followed a buildup of short positions toward or above the closely watched level of 100,000 contracts, but that doesn’t seem to be the case this time, Mizuho analysts Masafumi Yamamoto and Satoshi Yamauchi noted in a report this month.

Net short noncommercial futures positions in the yen totaled 42,062 in the week that ended Dec. 17.

That compares with 99,089 in the final week of December 2018, 116,086 in 2017 and 87,009 in 2016.