G-7 ministers take a laissez-faire attitude on yen

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G-7 ministers take a laissez-faire attitude on yen

Group of 7 finance chiefs signaled tolerance of the yen’s slide to its weakest since 2008, so long as it doesn’t get out of hand.

G-7 finance ministers and central bankers reaffirmed their February commitment to “not target exchange rates” at a meeting in Aylesbury, near London, U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said Saturday.

“The G-7 is inclined to endorse Japanese monetary policy as long as policy makers are not overtly” pursuing a cheaper yen, said Izumi Devalier, an economist at HSBC Holdings in Hong Kong.

While indicating acceptance of the yen’s decline through 100 per dollar, policy makers said Japan’s recovery program was a key focus of their talks and they will monitor the currency’s performance. The yen has fallen 15 percent against the dollar this year and 13 percent versus the euro as the Bank of Japan stepped up monetary stimulus.

“Everybody watches exchange rate developments,” German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said. “We had a very intense discussion about Japan with our Japanese colleagues.”

Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said that there were “expressions of concern” about exchange rates, although “all the countries in the G-7 consider themselves to be free-trading.”

A U.S. official said there had been an in-depth discussion on Japan, a day after Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew told CNBC that he had “made it clear that we’ll keep an eye on” ensuring countries aren’t trying to devalue exchange rates.

While ministers discussed recent stimulus efforts by central banks, “there is close attention that there are no unintended consequences on other countries both via capital flows or exchange rate movements,” Italian Finance Minister Fabrizio Saccomanni said in a Bloomberg television interview with Francine Lacqua after the talks.

Schaeuble said finance ministers told the central bankers that they’re “increasingly concerned” about “relative high liquidity.”

Bank of Japan Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda used the G-7 talks to reiterate that his doubling of monthly bond purchases is aimed at meeting a 2 percent inflation target by 2015, and not at artificially helping exporters.“Easing will contribute to achieving our domestic objective of ending nearly 15 years of deflation,” Kuroda said Saturday, adding that the G-7’s understanding of his strategy has deepened. Finance Minister Taro Aso said there had been no criticism of Japan’s policies from the G-7, or “any opinion” given on the yen passing 100 per dollar.

Osborne said G-7 economies have “held to” their three-month old pledge not to manipulate currencies and that Tokyo’s policies “impressed” delegates. The Japanese promised not to violate the February agreement, Schaeuble said.

Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann indicated that Japan had been told not to rely on central bank stimulus.

“Japanese problems, in the end, are mainly of a structural kind,” he said. “It’s therefore especially important to present a reliable path to return to sustainable public finances and on the other hand to tackle structural challenges.”

While the yen’s weakness aids exporters such as Sony, it risks undermining the prospects of trade partners. Nations including Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland are also moving to counter climbing currencies.

G-7 policy makers met amid signs the global economy is in another soft patch. Data released this week will show the euro area remained in recession in the first quarter and that U.S. retail sales fell in April for a second consecutive month, according to Bloomberg News surveys of economists.

“Growth prospects remain uneven and we can’t take the global recovery for granted,” Osborne said.

Before a meeting tomorrow of euro-area finance chiefs in Brussels, French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici again criticized the drive to slash budget deficits and backed more focus on credible debt reduction and making economies competitive.

“I don’t like the word austerity,” he told Bloomberg Television. “It means cutting over what is necessary.”

Delegates played down public disagreements over how fast governments should be cutting back, with both Osborne and Flaherty saying there is more common ground than generally assumed. “Everyone is clear that there needs to be credible medium-term fiscal consolidation,” Osborne said. “We also agreed that there needs to be flexibility.”

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said euro-area policy makers are still looking at a “variety of things” to encourage banks to lend although he noted banks are finding it easier to fund themselves than six months ago. One option under discussion is buying asset-backed securities although Draghi said that was “not easy” for the ECB to do.

The ECB cut its key interest rate to a record low of 0.5 percent this month, and Bank of Italy Gov. Ignazio Visco said it is ready to “act again” if needed.

G-7 officials also said they are moving toward revamping banking rules and ensuring any lender on the brink of failure can be shut down without threatening financial stability. Europe was also told to continue efforts to implement a Continent-wide regulatory system.

The G-7 will also take collective action on tax evasion and will work to make it easier to exchange information, Osborne said.

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