Central Banks Intervene to Weaken Yen After Post-Quake Surge

Central banks intervened in currency markets to weaken the yen after it soared to the strongest against the dollar since World War II, threatening Japan’s recovery from its worst earthquake on record.

“In response to recent movements in the exchange rate of the yen associated with the tragic events in Japan, and at the request of the Japanese authorities, the authorities of the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and the European Central Bank will join with Japan, on March 18, 2011, in concerted intervention in exchange markets,” the Group of Seven said today in a statement.

The yen depreciated 2.9 percent to 81.32 per dollar as of 9:25 a.m. in Tokyo from 78.89 yesterday in New York, when it reached a record 76.25 as increased risk of radiation leaks from a crippled nuclear power station boosted speculation Japanese investors will bring home overseas assets.

The combined sales are an attempt to limit the damage a strong Japanese currency will have on the nation’s economy in the aftermath of the magnitude 9 earthquake that struck on March 11. Japan unilaterally sold more than 2 trillion yen ($26 billion) in foreign-exchange markets in September to stem gains, its first intervention since 2004.

The intervention started at 9 a.m. Tokyo time and followed a Group of Seven industrialized nations conference call to discuss the impact of the March 11 earthquake in Japan, Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda told reporters after the call. Each country will intervene when their markets open, Noda said.

“Foreign-exchange markets are convinced that when the main central banks act together, that has to be taken very seriously,” said Paul Robson, a senior foreign-exchange strategist at Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc in London. “The last thing Japan needs is a sharply stronger exchange rate. They don’t want the global financial system to be weakened by sharp moves in the yen exchange rate.”

Japanese Investors

The yen typically climbs during crises because Japan’s current-account surplus means it doesn’t need foreign funding and because of the likelihood Japanese investors will repatriate assets. Japan holds $885.9 billion of Treasuries, the highest tally after China, according to the U.S. Treasury.

The currency reached its previous postwar high of 79.75 per dollar three months after Japan’s magnitude 6.9 Kobe earthquake in January 1995, which killed about 6,400 people, on speculation that bilateral talks to open up Japan’s auto market to U.S. exports would fail. Japan sold a total of 1.8 trillion yen in February and March that year as the yen rose 10 percent.

There have been more than 530 aftershocks since the March 11 temblor near the city of Sendai that left at least 5,457 people dead, with more than 9,500 missing and hundreds of thousands stranded and without power. Prime Minister Naoto Kan called for calm as he dispatched 100,000 troops to the northeastern region.

Tsunami, Meltdown

The tsunami and concern of a meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant has forced more than 450,000 people from their homes.

Japan’s success in reversing the yen’s gains on its own last year proved transitory. While it slumped 3.3 percent to 85.75 against the dollar on Sept. 15, the day of the intervention, the currency had strengthened to 80.22 by Nov. 1 as the Fed announced a second round of so-called quantitative easing to purchase $600 billion of Treasuries. The U.S. is Japan’s second-biggest trading partner.

“Japan had come in for some heat from overseas authorities for intervening before, but it’s becoming more acceptable to take action now, given that the move is designed to limit the damage a strong yen will have on the economy in the wake of the earthquake,” Takahide Kiuchi, chief economist at Nomura Securities Co. in Tokyo, said before the announcement.

Japan’s success in reversing the yen’s gains on its own last year proved transitory. While it slumped 3.3 percent to 85.75 against the dollar on Sept. 15, the day of the intervention, the currency had strengthened to 80.22 by Nov. 1, before the Fed announced a second round of so-called quantitative easing to purchase $600 billion of Treasuries.

To contact the reporters on this story: Keith Jenkins in London at kjenkins3@bloomberg.net; Yoshiaki Nohara in Tokyo at ynohara1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Daniel Tilles at dtilles@bloomberg.net

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