A potential U.K. exit from the European Union next week may have far-reaching implications for the $5.3 trillion-a-day currency market. Add to that list Japan’s currency strengthening to levels that spark speculation about central bank intervention to counter the move.
The yen surged to the strongest in almost two years against the dollar this week as investors sought refuge before the June 23 British referendum. The rally prompted Finance Minister Taro Aso to express concern and call for coordination with foreign counterparts to address what he described as disorderly exchange-rate moves.
“They would be able to intervene,” Alan Ruskin, New York-based head of Group-of-10 currency strategy at Deutsche Bank AG, the world’s fourth-largest currency trader, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. “If the yen was moving through 100 against the dollar and there were some Brexit-related events, then I could certainly see the Bank of Japan saying ‘Look here guys, we’re subject to all these external forces.’”
The Bank of Japan refrained this week from adding to stimulus, even as policy makers seek to bolster economic growth, which would benefit from a weaker yen making exports more competitive. Japan’s currency has rallied more than 15 percent against the dollar this year on haven demand from global economic turmoil, with hedge-fund positioning reaching the most bullish in six years.
Japan’s currency rose 2.6 percent this week, reaching 103.55 per dollar, the strongest level since August 2014. It added 2.4 percent to 117.47 per euro.
The premium for one-month options to buy the yen versus the greenback, over the cost of contracts to sell, widened to about 3 percentage points on June 16, the most since 2010, according prices compiled by Bloomberg. The gap was at 2.8 on Friday.
Analysts at Standard Bank Group Ltd., Prudential Financial Inc., Royal Bank of Canada, Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ Ltd. and Toronto-Dominion Bank said they are on watch for yen intervention.
“The most likely catalyst for that would be a Brexit outcome, in my view, which would lead potentially to very high volatility in foreign-exchange markets,” said Shahab Jalinoos, global head of foreign-exchange strategy at Credit Suisse Group AG in New York.
Aso, who is also deputy prime minister, said Friday that he wants to take “firm action” in line with Group-of-Seven and G-20 agreements on avoiding unstable currency markets.
Yet there’s no indication from the G-7 that they’re open to joint intervention. The last time Japan sold yen to restrain gains was in 2011, in a multilateral intervention following the devastating earthquake and tsunami.