Japan Resumes Hyprintspeed Part 1: A Look At The BOJ's Current, And Future, Quantitative Easing

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While it will not surprise anyone that Japan, which for the past 3 decades has been a monetary policy basket case caught in what bankers like calling a deflationary spiral (yet which others like Sean Corrigan merely define as prices re-indexing to a fair value absent endless cheap credit crutches), has constantly had to resort to a record loose monetary policy coupled with endless episodes of quantitative easing, some may not know that over the past month Japan has seen its current account balance swell by $250 billion, or nearly half the entire Fed QE2 monetization mandate. And as the BOJ continues to disclose the full extent of the Japanese economic devastation following March 11, we are confident that very soon the most recent episode of Japanese “printing” will surpass the $600 billion that the Fed is injecting into the US economy (in addition to the roughly $250 billion in Treasury bonds monetized by the BOJ each year): an amount roughly 5 times greater than America's when expressed as a ratio of GDP. It is thus no surprise then that Bernanke does not seem too concerned with the purported end of QE – after all money printing is merely moving from developed world point A to developed world point B. And thanks to monetary linkages of “globalization” all this brand new money will once again find its way into speculative assets, and thus, Fed mandate #3 favorite - Russell 2000.  Below we provide a closer look at what exactly the current and future, Japanese QEasing will look like.
To do that, we present some observations from an Ad Hoc Comment by GaveKal: “The Understandable Japanese Liquidity Surge.” As we presented yesterday, while for the time being the Japanese monetary base (unlike our own exploding Adjusted Monetary Base) will not show much if any change for a few months, the Japanese current account balance has “swollen by Yen equivalent of $250 billion in the past few days  (i.e., about half of the amount of QE).” This is shown on the chart below:

And since this move does not occur in isolation, it has impacted the broader total assets category of the BOJ, which is now close to an all time high following the recent surge:

So while it is now obvious that Japan has quietly, and without much fanfare moved into another monetization regime, the two questions remaining are: i) what is the mechanism by which Japan is pumping a quarter trillion into the market, and ii) and, much more important, where is this money going? GaveKal answers question #1:

Breaking down the BoJ’s increase in assets, it seems that the entire increase of the past week is pretty much attributable to one source – loans by funds supplying operations against pooled collateral (green line below). This is clearly a change in normal practices:

  • In 2002-2004, the BoJ injected cash in the system by purchasing treasury bills (dark blue above).
  • In 2008, the little the BoJ did was through the purchase of foreign assets and even then, the BoJ’s intervention was sterilized through the sale of JGBs (yellow line going down).

So what is this ‘loans by funds against pooled collateral’? Given the underlying amount, the only explanation we come up with (though we look forward to alternative theories from clients) is that the BoJ has dramatically increased its bank repo operation; in essence, making sure that the banks are not scarce of cash in the middle of the current national emergency. Importantly, so far, there seems to be no sterilization by the BoJ of this cash injection. A fact which begs a number of important questions, including:

  • Why isn’t the Yen retreating on this news? Is it just a question of delays and the markets still finding their footing after the massive exogenous shock of two weeks ago?
  • Where will that excess money go? Will it all go into rebuilding the devastated areas? Will it go into local stocks? Or will we see what we saw in 2003 onwards from Japanese investors, namely a rush for carry?

On this last point, it is interesting to note that since the G7 intervention was announced on the 18th, the typical ‘carry’ currencies, namely AUD, NZD, ZAR, BRL, etc., have done rather well:

As for question #2, as Louis Gave speculates, the excess money, instead of hitting the Nikkei, and with the dramatic relative underperformance of the Japanese stock market compared to the US this would not be surprising at all, could simply be fuelling the latest surge in commodity prices, which at this point provide far greater rates of return than stocks (by now everyone has seen the parabolic rise in silver prices in 2011 soon to be followed by gold and all other commodities). To wit:

Another possibility of course is that this excess liquidity is already helping fuel the next leg of the equity bull market while a more worrying development would be if this excess cash found its way in the hot ‘momentum’ trades of the day, namely oil, gold or silver.

Thus if the March action by the BOJ has taken about one month to translate into a nearly $20 spike in silver, just what will happen as the BOJ is forced to pump hundreds of billions more into its market? And pump it will: after holding back for over a month on the consequences of Japan’s earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, the head of the central bank has finally stepped up to the plate and warned that the Japanese economic outlook is “very severe.”

First a quick overview of what was disclosed about the Japanese economy in the past week: factory output fell at a record monthly pace in March, household spending declined at a record annual rate and another private survey showed manufacturing activity languishing at a two-year low. This is about as catastrhopic for a deflationary economy as it gets. And with apologies to Larry Kudlow, there is no boost in GDP coming any time soon. In fact, March monthly GDP was cut to the lowest since Lehman.

So with its back to the wall, what is Japan to do? More of the same of course. From Reuters:

Bank of Japan Governor Masaaki Shirakawa said on Saturday that the country's economic outlook was very severe and that the central bank would take appropriate action to support the economy.

But he offered few clues on whether and when the BOJ would expand its asset-buying scheme, only saying that its next policy step would depend on economic conditions at the time.

"The BOJ sees the outlook for Japan's economy as very severe," Shirakawa told a financial committee meeting in the lower house of parliament.

"We'd like to take appropriate policy steps as needed while monitoring the economy and prices, taking into account that uncertainty over the outlook is high," he said.

Asked by a lawmaker whether the BOJ would consider buying more government bonds to support the economy, Shirakawa said only: "We'd like to consider in earnest what would be the desirable step to take."

The BOJ kept monetary policy unchanged on Thursday even as it lowered its growth forecast for the current fiscal year, which began in April, and warned of uncertainties over the extent of damage that last month's devastating earthquake would inflict on the economy.

Shirakawa reiterated that having just expanded its asset purchasing scheme days after the March 11 quake, the BOJ preferred to spend more time examining the impact the step would have on the economy.

But he also left open the possibility of easing monetary policy further if damage from the quake proved bigger than expected, stressing that the central bank was focusing on downside risks to growth for the time being.

In a sign some in the BOJ were more cautious about the economic outlook than Shirakawa, Deputy Governor Kiyohiko Nishimura proposed on Thursday expanding the central bank's asset buying scheme by 5 trillion yen ($62 billion).

While the proposal was outvoted by the board, some market players said it may be a sign the BOJ may loosen policy as early as next month.

And loosen it will, because unfortunately as the past 30 years have shown, the country at this point has no other choice but to take the same toxic medicine which merely removes the symptoms briefly, while making the underlying problems far worse.  Also, with the Fed threatening to end QE2 in precisely two months, someone out there has to be dumping hundreds of billions in infinitely dilutable 1 and 0s into primary dealer prop desks. Furthermore, as shown above, the BOJ needs not to buy securities outright: tinkering with the shadow economy in the form of the repo market will provide just as desirable an outcome… If, of course, said outcome is to see gold and silver continue on their relentless rise to new all time record highs. And/or higher. Because the only thing limiting the price of gold is price stupidity and the amount of paper money in existence. Both are infinite.