What Does Japan Mean for the Rest of the World?

Is Abenomics about boosting exports or domestic demand?  I tend to agree with Lars Christensen on this issue:

There has been a lot of focus on the fact that USD/JPY has now broken above 100 and that the slide in the yen is going to have a positive impact on Japanese exports. In fact it seems like most commentators and economists think that the easing of monetary policy we have seen in Japan is about the exchange rate and the impact on Japanese “competitiveness”. I think this focus is completely wrong.

While I strongly believe that the policies being undertaken by the Bank of Japan at the moment is likely to significantly boost Japanese nominal GDP growth – and likely also real GDP in the near-term – I doubt that the main contribution to growth will come from exports. Instead I believe that we are likely to see is a boost to domestic demand and that will be the main driver of growth. Yes, we are likely to see an improvement in Japanese export growth, but it is not really the most important channel for how monetary easing works.

In my view, Abenomics has been remarkably centered on the domestic economy.  The impact on the Yen is almost an afterthought, whereas in the past policymakers would have turned to intervention to directly support the economy.  This looks like policymakers finally realized that such a policy approach wasn’t working and they need to change gears to a frontal-assault on domestic policy levers.

That said, a side-effect of Abenomics is currency depreciation, and this will have an impact on global trade.  Investment Week has an interview with hedge fund manager Hugh Hendry:

“Japan’s monetary pivot towards QE will not create economic growth out of nothing. Instead it seeks to redistribute global GDP in a manner that favours Japan versus the rest of the world. This is the last thing the global economy needs right now,” he said.

So what’s right and what’s wrong with that quote?  What’s right is that there will be a trade impact.  A story floating around right now is that Japanese exporters are not changing prices, but instead just allowing the impact of the weaker Yen to fall straight through to the bottom line.  But they will soon turn their attention to leveraging the weaker Yen to cut prices and take market share.  And they have Europe in their sights.  They might not be able to compete with Chinese exporters, but they can with German ones.

What’s wrong, however, is that this is exactly what the global economy needs right now.  If Germany and by extension Europe experiences weaker growth, European policymakers will need to respond.  And they are not likely to respond by buying Yen to hold its value up.  They are likely to respond by stimulating their domestic economy directly via easier monetary policy and, hopefully, easier fiscal policy.

In other words, successful domestically-orientated policy in Japan will have second-round effects that will induce further policy easing Europe.  And a good kick in the pants in Europe is exactly what we need right now. Rather than thinking about Japan’s policy as triggering “competitive devaluations,” think of it as triggering “coordinated global easing.”

What’s also wrong is Hendry’s usual hedge-fund bias again monetary policy.  By altering expectations to lower real interest rates, Japan’s monetary policy is in a sense creating economic growth out of nothing.   We frequently heard that “uncertainty” was holding back the recovery, but isn’t this the same thing as creating a recession out of nothing?  If you can create a recession out of nothing, then why not an expansion?

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About Tim Duy 348 Articles

Tim Duy is the Director of Undergraduate Studies of the Department of Economics at the University of Oregon and the Director of the Oregon Economic Forum.

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