Japan update: Abenomics 2.0

As a sort of casual week end ‘routine’, I was watching the cross assets chart of the main economies that I usually follow. There are so many things that are happening at the moment, however a little update on Japan is always refreshing and useful.

The chart below shows the evolution of the equity market (Nikkei 225 index, Candles) overlaid with USDJPY (green line). As you can see, since Abe came into power in December 2012, there has been a sort of Pavlovian response to the massive monetary stimulus: currency depreciation has led to higher equities. However, the Nikkei 225 index closed at 17,725 on Friday and is down almost 15% from a high of 21,000 reached on August 11, whereas the currency has stabilized at around 120 and has been trading sideways over the past month with an 1-month ATM implied volatility down from 13.2 to 10.6% over the same period. If we look at the 20-day correlation (that I like to watch quite a bit) between the two asset classes, we are down from a high of 89% reached on August 24th to 38.1% in the last observation with an equity market being much more volatile.

EquityandYenC

(Source: Bloomberg)

In article I wrote back in September 2014 entitled The JPY and some overnight developments, I commented a bit on how Japanese Pension Funds (GPIF in my example) were decreasing their bonds allocation and switching to equities. And the questions I ask myself all the time is ‘Can the BoJ (and the other major CBs) lose against the equity market today?’ Indeed, the GPIF, which manages about $1.15 in assets, suffered a 9.4tr Yen loss between July and September according to Nomura Securities.

Abenomics 1.0 update…

We saw lately that Japan printed a negative GDP of 0.3% QoQ in the second quarter of 2015 and is potentially heading for a Quintuple-Dip recession in 7 years. In addition, the economy returned to deflation (for the first time since 2013) if we look at the CPI Nationwide Ex Fresh Food (-0.1% YoY in August, down from 3.4% in May 2014). We know that deflation and recession were both factors that Abe has been trying to fight and avoid, and the question is now ‘What is the next move?’

In a press conference on September 24th, PM Abe announced a sort-of new ‘arrow’ where the plan is to achieve a GDP target of 600 trillion Yen in the coming years (no specific time horizon mentioned as far as I know), which is 20% more from where the economy stands at the moment (JPY 500tr). In addition, he also target to increase the birth rate to 1.8 children per woman from the current low rate of 1.4 in order to make sure that the Japanese population don’t fall below 100 million in 50 years (from approximately 126 million today).

Clearly, this new announcement shows that the three-arrow plan has failed for the moment, and the BoJ only has been the major player in order to inflate prices over the past few years. I am wondering how this new plan is going to work in the middle of the recent EM economic turmoil. My view goes for additional stimulus, another 10 trillion Yen on the table which will bring the QQME program to a total of 90 trillion Yen. If you think about it, the BoJ is currently running a QE program almost as much as big as the Fed’s one in 2013 (85bn USD a month, 1 trillion USD per year) for an economy three times smaller than the US. Deceptions coming from Kuroda (i.e. no additional printing) could strengthen the Yen a little bit, but this will be seen as a new buying opportunities for traders or investors looking at the 135 medium-term retracement (against the US Dollar).

Here are a few figures and ratios to keep in my mind in the medium-term future…

Bank of Japan Total Assets

According to Bloomberg’s BJACTOTL Index, the BoJ’s balance sheet total assets increased by 210tr Yen since December 2012 and now stands at 368tr Yen. With an economy estimated at roughly 500tr Yen, the BoJ-total-assets-to-GDP ratio stands now at 73.6%.

JAPANassetC

(Source: Bloomberg)

Japan Banks total Assets

As of Q1 2015, the Japanese Banks reported a 1,818 trillion Yen exposure, which represents 363% as a share of the country’s GDP.

BanksJapanC

(Source: Bloomberg)

Based on the figures, you clearly understand that Japan’s government has been trying to push savers into stocks so Mrs Watanabe can take part of this artificial asset price inflation. However, a recent study from the Bank of Japan showed that Japanese households still had 52% of their assets in cash and bank deposits as of March 2015 (vs 13% for the American for instance).

The 15-percent recent drawdown in the equity market clearly shows sign of persistent ‘macro tourists’ investors, who are giving Abe and the BoJ board a hard time.

To conclude, the situation is still complicated in Japan, which is hard to believe based on the figures I just showed you. I strongly believe that Abe cannot fail in his plan, therefore if the new arrow needs more stimulus (which it does), we could see another 10 to 15 trillion on the table in the coming months. The medium term key level on USDJPY stands at 135, which brings us back to the high of March 2002.

The JPY and some overnight developments…

The latest development that we found interesting lately was certainly USDJPY breaking out of its [four-month] 101 – 103 range on August 20. Despite US LT yields trending lower (10-year trading below 2.40%) and the BoJ showing no interest of increasing QE even though the economy printed dismal figures (except a strong CPI), the Yen has weakened by almost two figures in the past couple of weeks against the greenback and is now trading slightly below 105.

We were a bit surprised by this breakout as we thought until lately that the JPY had no reason to depreciate against the US Dollar (especially with a quiet BoJ and US LT yields expected to remain low in H2 according to analysts). Our thoughts was that the Yen depreciation mainly came from the carry trade positions (‘risk-on’ sentiment) with AUDJPY trading at new highs at around 97.50 (which corresponds to June 2013 levels), and we first assumed that the risk-on situation isn’t fully established and the market was just looking for ST opportunities and that any major ‘bad’ news could potentially trigger some massive carry unwinds as we saw previously (aka Yen appreciation).

However, after a few chats with some FX strategists (who we all thank for their kind answers), a first important thing to notice is the decrease in the 6-month (daily) rolling correlation between AUDJPY and S&P500 from 67% back in mid-February this year down to 47% today. In other words, the Japanese Yen sensitivity to risk-off moves has fallen as you can see it below in the Bloomberg Spread Analysis.Audcorr

(Source: Bloomberg)

Secondly, traders and investors are becoming more confident on a BoJ move later on this year, and further easing by JP policymakers (after Japan dismal figures: July household spending collapsed 5.9% YoY, Q2 GDP shrank by annualized 6.8% erasing Q1 gains, Housing starts down 14.1% in July…) is the main driver on Yen weakness according to analysts.

Eventually, another factor to look at would be Japanese institutional investors switching from bonds to stocks (and international stocks and bonds); we saw strong demand for French OAT from Japan last week. For instance, as you can see it below, GPIF, Japanese 1.2-trillion-dollar retirement fund, reduced its domestic bonds holdings by almost 10 percent in the past 3 years and has gradually increased its holdings of Japanese equities and International Bonds and Stocks. In June this year, it reported that it held 53.36% of domestic bonds and 17.26% of domestic stocks, down from 62.64% and 12.37% respectively back in 2011 (Abe’s effect). As a reminder, GPIF has a 60% target for domestic bonds and 12% for Japanese stocks, with 8% and 6% deviation limits respectively for those assets.

Gpif

Having said that, the 105 level could potentially act as a psychological resistance at the moment, next important level on the topside stands at 105.44, which corresponds to January 2nd high. USDJPY looks a bit overbought as you can see it on the chart below, and we will look for lower levels to start considering buying some more.

JPY-2-Sep(1)

(Source: Reuters)

Aussie pausing as expected…

The late US Dollar rally (USD index flirting with 83.00, its highest level since July 2013) hasn’t impact the Aussie (that much) and AUDUSD is still trading within its 5-month 0.92 – 0.95 range. The RBA left its cash rate steady at 2.50% (as expected) and looks unlikely to change it for some time, which is what we were assuming (see our article RBA is giving up…). The BBSW rates, which correspond to transparent rates for the pricing and revaluation of privately negotiated bilateral Australian dollar interest swap transactions, are trading quite flat with the 1-month and 6-month bills paying 2.66% and 2.69% respectively.

Despite AU annual inflation approaching the high of the RBA [2-3] percent inflation target range (Trimmed mean CPI came in at 2.9% YoY in the second quarter), AU policymakers noted slack in the job market and rising house prices.

The trend on AUDUSD looks bearish at the moment; we will try to sell some if the pair pops back above 0.9300 ahead of US employment reports on Friday. I’d put an entry level at 0.9330, with a tight stop loss at 0.9360 and a target at 0.9210.

Figures to watch this week:

AU GDP YoY (sep. 3rd): expected to ease back to 3.0% in the second quarter, down from 3.5%.
AU Trade balance (Sep 4th): expected to come in a -1.51bn AUD in July.
US Non-Farm Payrolls (Sep 5th):  expected to print at 225K in August, above the 200K level for the for the seventh consecutive month.