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Yen No Longer A Safe Haven

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Yen No Longer A Safe Haven

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Traditionally the yen has been a safe haven for investors in times of economic hardship, but it fell to a three-month low of Y97.80 at the end of February as global markets continued to fall, prompting speculation that the currencys days as a safe haven were numbered.

DAN WALSH on why Japan is no longer the small business retreat it once was.

With exports plunging 45% in Januaryfrom the year before, industrial production slipping 10%, public debtspiralling out of control and a record trade deficit, Japan is amongthe hardest hit by the global downturn.

The extent of the problems faced byJapans exporters is best exemplified by sales at its car makers.Global production has fallen 54 per cent at Mitsubishi, 54 per centat Nissan, 39 per cent at Toyota, and 33 per cent at Honda.

The ferocity of the slowdown in Japanhas forced many large companies, including Sony and Pioneer, to cuttheir workforce by thousands, heightening the risk that the countrysbiggest recession since World War 2 will deepen further.

The relative strength of the yen which has exacerbated weak overseas demand by making them relativelymore expensive on world markets is a heavy burden on the Japaneseeconomy.

Traditionally the yen has been a safehaven for investors in times of economic hardship, but it fell to athree-month low of Y97.80 at the end of February as global marketscontinued to fall, prompting speculation that the currencys daysas a safe haven were numbered.

Yet, it was a month ago that a formerJapanese finance minster told a British newspaper that he expectedthe ministry to take steps to artificially devalue the yen. It seemsas though the speed of unfolding crisis has taken everybody bysurprise.

This, however, does not mean an end tothe countrys economic worries; the global downturn will continueto blunt overseas demand for Japanese goods.

Japans troubles are not confined tothe economic sphere, after almost half a century of continuous powerthe Liberal Democratic Party is losing ground to the DemocraticParty, and is expected to be defeated in September. This turnaroundof popularity has surely been aided by images of the finance minster,Shoichi Nagagawa, appearing drunk at the G7 summit in Rome lastmonth.

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