G-7 Warns on Weak Global Growth as Japan Bristles Over Yen

JAPAN-G7-ECONOMY-DIPLOMACY

Finance ministers and central bankers from the G7 hold a session meeting in Sendai.

Photographer: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images
  • Finance ministers, central bank chiefs met in northern Japan
  • Japan is at odds with U.S. on currency market conditions

Finance chiefs from the world’s biggest developed economies meeting in Japan underscored concerns that global growth is flagging and reaffirmed a pledge not to deliberately weaken their currencies, even as Japan again warned on the yen’s surge.

At the end of two days of talks, Group of Seven central bank governors and finance ministers highlighted risks from terrorism, refugee flows, political conflicts and the potential for a U.K. exit from the European Union.

Taro Aso at the G-7 news conference on May 21.
Taro Aso at the G-7 news conference on May 21.
Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

While officials agreed not to target currencies to stoke growth and warned of the negative consequences from disorderly moves in exchanges rates, host Japan repeated a stance that recent trading in the yen has been one sided and speculative.

Comments on the yen’s moves by Finance Minister Taro Aso hint at a growing frustration inside Japan’s government about the impact on exporters after the currency surged 9 percent this year, spurring speculation that the government may intervene. Aso raised the issued in a meeting with U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew on Saturday.

"I told him that one-sided, abrupt, and speculative moves were seen in the FX market recently, and abrupt moves in the currency market are undesirable and the stability of currencies is important,” Aso said to reporters.

Yen Tensions

Tensions over the yen were evident over the course of the meetings, which were held at a hot springs resort in the country’s north. As Japan warned about the impact of disorderly trading, Lew repeated his view that the yen’s movement hasn’t been overly volatile.

"It’s a pretty high bar to have disorderly conditions," Lew told reporters.

To be sure, Japan remains a long way from its first intervention since 2011, when the G-7 sanctioned selling the yen to aid the country’s recovery after a devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown. A strengthening dollar amid rising bets that the U.S. Federal Reserve may lift interest rates over coming moths is helping ease pressure on Japan’s exporters.

Aso also made it clear that the difference of opinion with the U.S. is manageable. "They have an election and we have an election and we both have TPP talks," Aso said. "There are various things on our plates and we of course have to say various things as that’s our jobs."

Being Vocal

Still, by choosing to be so vocal on the yen, Aso is both attempting to jawbone the currency lower and put a marker down in the event the currency again starts to appreciate rapidly.

"There’s no sign that Japan and the U.S. will move closer together," said Hiroaki Muto, chief economist at Tokai Tokyo Research Center.

Beyond currencies, the G-7 didn’t agree on details of how best to revive the world’s economy. The group said central banks, governments and structural reforms should be involved but stopped short of any coordinated push or an agreed to-do list. 

"There was agreement that at the end of the day it’s the mix between monetary policy, fiscal policy and structural reforms that matters," said Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann.

Divergent Views

The position emerged that country-specific conditions need to be taken into account. This may reflect the divergent views among the G-7 on whether to unleash extra government spending, as advocated by Japan and Canada, but opposed by Germany. A summary of the meeting released by Japan said it’s important to implement fiscal strategy flexibly while putting debt as a share of gross domestic product on a sustainable path.

"It is both disappointing and unexpected that there is a lack of ideas and will to secure new sources of global growth," said Douglas Paal, a vice president at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

As planned, no communique was issued after the event. Japan said its summary didn’t purport to be an official consensus.

The G-7 agreed that if U.K. voters decide in a June referendum to leave the European Union, it would be the wrong decision and hurt the country’s economic growth. Officials also signaled confidence that the European Union will reach a deal with Greece at the meeting of his counterparts next week.

Terrorist Financing

Other discussions included tackling cross border tax evasion and an agreement on new ways to combat terrorist financing.

The talks took place against the background of slowing global growth and continuing concerns about the health of Japan’s economy, the world’s third largest. It dodged recession in the first quarter on the back of government spending.

Falling prices and low growth across much of the developed world has stoked concerns that governments aren’t doing enough to stimulate demand as the influence of monetary policy wanes.

The meeting brought together finance ministers and central bank governors from Britain, Canada, Italy, France, Germany, Japan and the U.S., plus leaders from the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and European Union.

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