A holiday in Japan, but not a holiday for Yen

Amidst holiday-thinned trading, the yen's sharp slide below 160 against the dollar, followed by a swift rebound, sparks speculation over potential intervention by Japanese authorities amidst concerns over Federal Reserve policy implications.

By Ahmed Azzam | @3zzamous | 29 April 2024

Market open
  • Yen pressured by expectations of BOJ's loose policy.

  • Yen rebounds strongly after breaking below 160 for the first time since 1990.

In a noteworthy turn of events, the yen, navigating through a holiday-diminished market landscape, briefly pierced the 160-per-dollar threshold on Monday, marking its weakest position since 1990. However, demonstrating a remarkable resilience, the Japanese currency swiftly staged a forceful rebound, igniting speculation over potential intervention by authorities.

Amid the thin trading conditions typical of a local public holiday, the yen experienced a turbulent trajectory, plunging by as much as 1.2% to 160.17 against the dollar, only to reverse course and surge by over 2%. These dramatic fluctuations, occurring against the backdrop of subdued liquidity, prompted conjecture among traders, who found themselves delicately balancing the specter of official intervention against the backdrop of potentially hawkish rhetoric from the Federal Reserve later in the week.

When questioned by reporters about potential intervention in the currency market, Japan's top currency official, Masato Kanda, offered no immediate commentary, further fueling speculation surrounding the market dynamics at play.

While some attributed the sharp oscillations to algorithm-driven trading accounts, others discerned the subtle hand of officials maneuvering behind the scenes. Indeed, the sudden and pronounced nature of the movements bore all the hallmarks of a possible intervention by the Bank of Japan (BOJ), particularly opportune amid the reduced liquidity characteristic of a Japanese public holiday.

The looming Federal Reserve policy meeting looms large on the horizon, with market participants eagerly anticipating signals regarding the necessity of maintaining elevated interest rates in light of persistent inflationary pressures. Such a stance is widely expected to bolster the dollar, potentially eroding the allure of yen-denominated assets. However, beneath the surface, lurks the looming specter of Japanese intervention, reminiscent of similar actions witnessed in 2022.

The absence of intervention could potentially exacerbate risks, prompting caution among investors wary of catching a falling knife, particularly against the backdrop of an anticipated delay in Fed rate cuts. Momentum appears to favor a decisive ascent for the dollar against the yen, with market sentiment testing Japan's threshold for tolerating a sharp depreciation of its currency.

Although the Bank of Japan has signaled its intent to maintain accommodative financial conditions, policymakers have repeatedly underscored their reluctance to tolerate a precipitous decline in the yen. Earlier engagements between Japan's finance minister and US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen served to underscore mounting concerns over the yen's downward trajectory, potentially laying the groundwork for future interventionist measures.

However, Japan's hesitance to intervene may be rooted in the realization that such actions alone may prove insufficient in addressing the fundamental drivers behind the yen's depreciation. Despite efforts by the BOJ to nudge local rates away from negative territory, they remain far from levels capable of enticing investors away from the relatively higher yields on offer in the United States and other jurisdictions.