A man rides a bike between containers at an industrial port in Tokyo. Photo: REUTERS file

Caught in the trade war: Resurgent yen poses risk for Japan Inc

By Naomi Tajitsu and Yuri Harada

Japan Inc is caught in the crossfire of the trade war between the United States and China, as a resurgent yen threatens to sap profits and complicate the economic outlook.

Worsening trade friction between the world's two largest economies has reduced investor appetite for risk and boosted assets perceived to be safer bets, such as gold and the yen.

Japan’s currency is now near its firmest level in eight months against the U.S. dollar, and exporters in the world’s third-largest economy are preparing for pain.

Toyota Motor Corp reported its best quarter in four years last week, but cut its full-year outlook on the yen.

“We’re going to be affected by a stronger yen this year, so to offset this as much as possible we have been taking extra measures to reduce fixed costs and cut down on expenses,” said Kenta Kon, a Toyota manager.

Japanese exporters regularly hedge against currency fluctuations, but a strengthening yen still hurts them because it makes their electronic appliances, semiconductors and cars more expensive overseas. It also decreases the value of overseas earnings when they are brought home.

The economy expanded at an annualised 1.8% in the second quarter, data showed on Friday, beating expectations of a 0.4% increase. Robust household consumption and business investment offset the hit to exports, which fell 0.1%.

But the outlook for exports could be further complicated as firms are saddled with a strengthening yen.

“The escalating U.S.-China trade war and the yen’s rise are negative factors for Japan’s economy,” said Yoshiki Shinke, chief economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.

“There’s a pretty good chance the timing of a pick-up in exports could be delayed,” he added.

Toyota expects the stronger yen to knock 350 billion yen ($3.3 billion) from its operating profit in the current financial year, roughly double its previous forecast and a big increase from last year’s 50 billion yen impact.

The automaker, Japan’s largest company by revenue and market value, expects the yen to average around 106 to the U.S. dollar in the current financial year, against a previous assumption of 110 yen.

Other exporters have signaled the possibility of currency pain. Sony Corp now expects the yen to average 108 yen this year, from its previous forecast of 110.

“There’s no magic solution,” Toshiba Corp Chief Financial Officer Masayoshi Hirata told reporters, referring to the yen. “If the yen continues to appreciate we’ll have to further improve our cost efficiencies,” he said.

Honda Motor Co, Suzuki Motor Corp and Mazda Motor Corp have also flagged the possibility of a cut to profit forecasts if the yen’s climb continues.

Honda, which relies on the United States for about a quarter of its vehicle sales, last week posted a 16% percent drop in first-quarter profit, partially hit by the yen.

The currency is an additional problem for automakers already facing easing demand in many markets, said Chris Richter, senior research analyst at brokerage CLSA.

“Many Japanese automakers are going to have to adjust their profit forecasts simply because things are bad for them in vehicle markets, and the forex issue is the icing on the cake,” he said.

The yen appreciating beyond 105 to the dollar is often seen by automakers as determining whether the currency will mean a significant hit to profit.

The currency was at 105.93 to the dollar on Friday.

“Given the current uncertainty about what will happen between the United States and China, along with other issues, it’s difficult to revise our forecasts at the moment,” Suzuki managing officer Masahiko Nagao told a briefing this week.

“But we may have to revisit them later in the year, once we have a better idea,” he added.

Some investors and economists worry that the U.S.-China trade war has entered a new phase that will do even more damage to the global economy. U.S. President Donald Trump has said he will impose more tariffs on Chinese imports from Sept 1.

China this week let the yuan slide to an 11-year low, prompting the U.S. Treasury Department to label Beijing a currency manipulator. The trade war has brought forward the next U.S. recession, according to a majority of economists polled by Reuters.

So far, economists say there are no signs that the uncertainty over the trade war has prompted Japanese firms to rein in investment spending.

Still, with global demand cooling, a resurgent yen is hardly what Japan’s exporters - or the economy - need.

“The outlook for Japan’s economy is highly uncertain. My main scenario is that Japan can avert a full-blown economic downturn,” said Dai-ichi Life’s Shinke.

“But the risk is clearly tilted to the downside,” he said.

© Thomson Reuters 2019.

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

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The outlook for Japan’s economy is highly uncertain.

The corporates say that every year. They NEVER, EVER say the outlook is "certain." LOL. It's a ploy to get what they want from the authorities and society at large: corporate tax cuts, accommodative monetary policies, subsidies, permission to conduct wage suppression, profit hoarding, paying third-world guest workers third-world wages, etc.

11 ( +13 / -2 )

Ridiculous analysis. Resurgent yen threatens the export industries, but presents a huge opportunity for the massively underdeveloped service sector industry.

This analysis was entirely from the point of view of the export companies, but from the point of view of the average consumer, rising yet is a very good news. It means cheaper imports, and more service sector jobs. They only focus on the losses in the export industry, but they neglect to recognize the unseen, which is that there will be more jobs created in the service sector. A lot more jobs will be created than lost, and overall, people's standards of living will increase as a result of the higher yen, because they can buy cheaper imports. People will have more money in their pockets, that's a good thing.

The ideal situation is to import as much as possible, and export as little as possible, not the other way around.

The trade war between US and China is a golden opportunity for Japan to strengthen their currency and escape the 3 decades long cheap yen cycle. All the government has to do is.. not do anything, just let the currency rise naturally.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

Oh me, since I get my money in USA dollars to change to yen, it hurts me.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

The ideal situation is to import as much as possible, and export as little as possible, not the other way around.

In theory yes, but remember this is Japan. Importing goods and services at a cheaper price benefits the consumer, BUT, the domestic side of the house will scream bloody murder that they are being undercut by the flood of cheaper and "just as good as made-in-Japan"!

6 ( +6 / -0 )

The rising yen increases export prices but at the same time it decreases import prices. A boon to a country like Japan that depends so much on imported oil and raw materials. So what are you making a fuss about?

1 ( +4 / -3 )

ha ha I love it

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Time to spend the yen I bought at 120 for 1 USD. Time to stash a few USD for those that travel and are paid in Yen.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The only benefactors are the company owners and major holders. Everyone else suffers. The so called lower prices never happens and if so for a very short time span. This is no good, the yen at 112 to 114 is best for Japan, Currency manipulating is not good as what the US president wants.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Perfect timing for my holiday abroad!

4 ( +5 / -1 )

 the domestic side of the house will scream bloody murder that they are being undercut by the flood of cheaper and "just as good as made-in-Japan"!

yep cheaper imported goods means domestic producers lower their prices and pay less to their staff, less bonuses. also means more jobs move overseas meaning less J government revenue and taxes need to be raised as a result. remember the consumption tax was 0% just over 20yrs ago, itll soon be 10% and probably higher in another 10yrs. sort of defeats the purpose of having cheaper goods if you have to have to pay higher taxes to purchase them. fact remains most 1st world countries built their economies on exports, bring in more wealth from exports than you lose from importing. Paying foreign workers to make much of the goods you buy domestically isnt the way economies are built, not unless you want to run massive deficits in the process, deficits have to be paid back eventually eg higher taxes on future generations. Its not hard to see the pattern is it.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

So what are you making a fuss about?

so as imports increase and domestic manufacturers move overseas to compete means less governement revenue and increased taxes and less social security, higher healthcare cost lower retirement benifits (which are pathetic now wait another 10~20yrs) thats the problem most people cant think past their next salary or what bill theyre leaving their children

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Any economic woes Japan has cannot be blamed on others.

If Japans exports decline then that seem to be of Japans own making. Has'nt Japans government recently put restrictions on another country?

Anyway, the fact that the Yen is seen as a safe haven is surely good for the Japanese treasury.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Where’s the forecast from Nissan?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Most Japanese companies have moved operations to China so it doesn’t really matter!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Yes, it is not tempting over the medium term to move operations to UK- Brighton or Germany- Frankfurt dependent on role.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Open yr eyes, Japan manufacturers will further weaken their positions. Pls study normal basic economics.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Yen-as-a-safe-haven makes it uniquely possible for Japanese government to print more Japanese money to finance without falling into hyperinflation. It's a unique privilege not many countries can enjoy.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japan adjust your currency please.

Remember in the 80s when Japan economy was destroyed?

Remember in 2008 when recession happened?

Japan has always lost billions and companies can't compete with countries who control their currency up and down whenever necessary while Japan does nothing and takes a hit. Wake up!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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