A View from the Trenches, September 20th, 2010: "How the Yen intervention works, Part 1"
Please, click here to read this article in pdf format: september-20-2010
In our last letter, we made the point that the intervention to devalue the Yen was supportive of gold. We explicitly decided to exclude from our comments the details of the intervention, but now in hindsight, believe it was not appropriate. Therefore, we want to start the week going through these details. We think it is important to understand the same because they give us a lot of information and we can deduct important conclusions.
Without further ado, let’s examine how this intervention should work. The operative word here is “should”, because the intervention is still in its early stages and there is speculation about its effectiveness. We refer the reader to the latest research by Bank of America’s G10 FX Strategy team published on September 16th, 2010 (our source), for a slightly different perspective on the mechanism we will describe below. We understand this mechanism is best explained in a work titled “Modern Monetary Theory”, written by Mr. Shirakawa, who is currently the Governor of the Bank of Japan (we have not been able to access it yet). Finally, we wish to devote two letters to the analysis of this event, given its relevance. In today’s letter, we will go through the details and some important conclusions. In the next letter, we will explain the differences between this type of intervention and the one we are used to see, via central banks. We will also examine why coordination with other central banks, which is missing so far, is important and how that in turn gives support to gold. Let’s start…
In Japan, the FX intervention is carried out by the Ministry of Finance, rather than the Bank of Japan. In order to sell Yen to the FX market to devalue, the Ministry of Finance issues Finance Bills, which are “bought” by the Bank of Japan, in Yen. Let’s call these first issuances Finance Bills “1” and Yen “1”, which are issued by the Ministry of Finance and the Bank of Japan, respectively, as shown in the graph below (graph 1):
Next, with the Yen1, the Ministry of Japan buys USDs in the FX market. In doing so, the price of Yen in terms of USDs drops as its supply increases. At this point, the amount of Yen circulating in the market is higher than before this intervention took place. This increase in supply is the amount we call Yen1. However, to bring the supply of Yen back to the original size, the Ministry of Finance issues Finance bills in the market. We will call this issuance Finance Bills 2, which are shown below (graph 2). The amount of Finance Bills 2 equals that of the first issuance, Finance Bills 1, and raises Yen2, so that Yen1=Yen2:
Of course, as the Ministry of Finance goes to the market to place Finance Bills 2, with this new issuance, the supply of government debt in Yen increases. Given the current market conditions, the impact on price must be minimal. However, as in any other bond market, as supply grows, yield tends to grow (i.e. price tends to fall), to encourage market participants to buy the increased supply.
Once the amount Yen2 is in the balance sheet of the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry uses it to repay its outstanding debt with the Bank of Japan, which we called Finance Bills 1. Therefore, once this payment is done, the balance sheet of the Bank of Japan remains unchanged and Yen1 are taken out of circulation. The Ministry of Finance has USDs on the asset side of its balance sheet, matched by Finance Bills 2 on the liabilities side, as shown in the graph below (graph 3):
The three graphs above show the balance sheets of all the participants in this intervention: The Ministry of Finance, the Bank of Japan, the FX market and the Yen Government debt market. However, we think it may also be interesting to show the intervention in terms of cash flows. Therefore, we show graph 4 below, where we can see that de facto, the Ministry of Finance ends up acting as intermediary between the Government debt market and the FX market. In essence, the intervention “moves” Yen from the Government debt market to the FX market, and this is a “fragile” movement, because it lends itself to arbitrage. Hence, the importance of central bank coordination, to gain “independence” from this source of Yen supply.
Why does this movement of Yen lend itself to arbitrage? Because an asset can never have two different prices in different markets. Whenever that occurs, arbitrageurs fix the problem.
You may question why we think the Yen has two different prices. Well, let us answer that question with another one: Why would the Yen Government Debt market need a “middle-man” (see graph above, graph 4) to provide Yen to the FX market?
It doesn’t!!! The Yen Government Debt market is “not willing” to buy US dollars (i.e. provide Yen) from the FX market at a loss (i.e. buying US dollars at above market prices).
So, who ends up taking the loss? Who ends up buying US dollars at above 82 Yen per dollar? The Ministry of Finance does, which means the average Japanese tax payer! This person is subsidizing the big exporting conglomerates of Japan, so that they can provide “financing” to the American consumer who is broke. The subsidy can be significant because as we saw in the graphs above, two things take place simultaneously: a) Interest rates in Yen will tend to increase (i.e. price of Yen Finance Bills will tend to fall) and b) the holders of Yen (i.e. Japanese consumer) will lose purchasing power.
In the long term, the Ministry of Finance incurs into a deficit (if the USD depreciates further) which can only be addressed with higher debt (i.e. higher interest rates) or higher taxes. Remember that the Profit/Loss position of the Ministry of Finance will be now determined by:
P&L = D US dollars (in its Assets) / D t – D Finance Bills 2 / D t
If the Fed undertakes quantitative easing again, the value of the US dollars will fall, generating a loss to the Ministry of Finance. Will they keep buying US dollars then?
Today, we have laid out the general details of the Yen intervention. In the next letter, we will examine other issues/conclusions associated with it: Why is it important to coordinate with other central banks? How would that coordination work? What makes this intervention different to others? Why did Mr. Shirakawa note that under this mechanism the issue of sterilization is meaningless? Is the coordination supportive of gold? Can the intervention affect US interest rates (i.e. Where will the Ministry of Finance invest the US dollars it buys?). These are all important questions and they need answers.
The comments expressed in this website and daily letters are my own personal opinions only and do not necessarily reflect the positions or opinions of my employer or its affiliates. All comments are based upon my current knowledge and my own personal experiences. You should conduct independent research to verify the validity of any statements made in this website before basing any decisions upon those statements. In addition, any views or opinions expressed by visitors to this website are theirs and do not necessarily reflect mine. My comments provide general information only. Neither the information nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation, an offer or an invitation to make an offer, to buy or sell any securities or other financial instrument or any derivative related to such securities or instruments (e.g., options, futures, warrants, and contracts for differences). My comments are not intended to provide personal investment advice and they do not take into account the specific investment objectives, financial situation and the particular needs of any specific person.