Great Chart: TOPIX vs. USDJPY

As we always like to look at the Japanese Yen charts (USDJPY, AUDJPY, MXNJPY) as a sort of alternative barometer of investors sentiment and overall financial conditions, we chose an interesting chart this week that shows a scatter plot of the Japanese equity market (TOPIX) with USDJPY. The two assets have shown a significant relationship over the years, especially since Abe took office in Q4 2012 and the BoJ introduced QQME (i.e. extremely accommodative monetary policy) on April 3rd 2013. Investor Kyle Bass was one of the first to introduce the term Pavlovian response to this ‘weaker yen, higher equities’ relationship in Japan, which brought a lot of ‘macro tourists’ instead of long-term investors.

However, we noticed that the relationship between the Yen and the TOPIX broke down in Q2 2017. While the Japanese equity market has continued to soar over the past few months, currently flirting with the 1,900 psychological level (its highest level since 1991), USDJPY has been less trendy and has been ranging between 107 and 114 (see divergence here). Hence, we decided to plot a scatter chart between the two assets using a weekly frequency since 2001.

As you can see, a strong Japanese Yen (i.e. USDJPY below 100) usually goes in pair with a weak equity market. For instance, we barely see the TOPIX index above 1,000 when the USDJPY trades below the psychological 100 level. However, as the exchange rate increases, we see more dispersion around the upward sloping linear trend; for a spot rate of 120, we had times when the TOPIX was trading at 800 and other times when it was trading at 1,800. We did a simple exercise and regress the exchange rate returns on the equity returns (both log terms) to see if we get some significant results, using the following equation:

As you can see, the coefficient Beta is economically and statistically significant at a 1-percent level. Using 16 years of data, we find that a 1-percent increase in USDJPY spot rate is associated with a 0.76% increase in the stock market.

We highlighted the point where we currently are in the chart (Today), which is a TOPIX at 1,889, its highest level in the sample, for a USDJPY spot rate of 112.80. We can notice that the point is located at an extreme level of dispersion, and the question we raised a few weeks ago was ‘Can the divergence between the equity index and the exchange rate continue for a while?’

We think that the stock market in Japan will struggle to reach new highs and generate some potential interesting returns in the months to come due to the poor performance of the banking system (strong weigh in the index) and the constant decrease in the effectiveness of the BoJ policy measures. We mentioned a month ago that the Japanese Yen was 26% ‘undervalued’ relative to its 23Y average value of 99.3 according to the Real Effective Exchange Rate (REER valuation) (see here), hence we find it difficult to imagine a super bear JPY / Bull TOPIX scenario. In addition, we also raised the fact that the current level of oil prices were going to deteriorate Japan Trade Balance in the future (see here), pushing back the current account in the negative territory and potentially impacting the stock market.

Chart: Scatter plot of TOPIX vs. USDJPY – weekly frequency (Source: Reuters Eikon) 

Great Chart: US 2Y10Y yield curve vs. USDJPY

Among all the potential compatible candidates that show an interesting correlation vis-à-vis the USDJPY (i.e. 10-year US-Japan interest rate differential, Topix index …), I chose this week to overlay the currency pair with the US 2Y10Y yield curve. If we look at the past three years of data, we can notice an interesting development that has started since mid-April of this year. While the US yield curve and USDJY has shown strong co movement between January 2015 and April 2017, it has been a different story over the past 8 months.

In the US, the yield curve has constantly been falling and is currently trading at 51.5bps half the value where it was sitting in April 2017. On the other hand, the Japanese Yen has been oscillating within a 7-figure against the green back, between 107.50 and 114.50. What is interesting about this divergence is that it started more or less at the same time of the Topix vs. USDJPY divergence, with Japanese equities soaring from 1,500 to 1,800 and a Yen mean reverting around 111 against the USD ( see tweet Topix vs. USDJPY).

The question now is: How long can this divergence persist in the near to medium term? The current level of the US yield curve has raised the concern of many market participants as in theory it is viewed as a strong predictor of future recessions. Looking at economic and financial data, I don’t personally believe that we are very close to a potential recession in the US; in addition, the yield curve is still far from its extreme lows of -20bps and -95bps we saw in November 2006 and May 2000 (if we just look at the past 30 years of data). However, I think that we may see some US Dollar weakness against the Japanese Yen, on a back of slowly disappointing fundamentals (easing all the excitement on the expected Fed rate hikes) and geopolitical uncertainty. Moreover, the Japanese Yen is 26% ‘undervalued’ relative to its 23Y average of 99.3 according to the real effective exchange rate ( see JPY REER).

Chart: USDJPY (Candlesticks, rhs) vs. US 2Y10Y yield curve (Source: Bloomberg)

JPY US Curve