Look at That Yen!

All of those years spent living in rabbit hutch sized apartments, getting hand packed by white gloved railway men into rush hour train cars, and learning an impossible language, are finally paying off.

I have to tell you, I really have to think hard to recall a plunge in a major currency that has been as dramatic as the yen’s over the past two months. Since the Mid-November route began in earnest, the cash market has collapsed from ¥76.80 to ¥92.60 to the dollar. That has taken the ETF (FXY) down from $126.30 to an eye popping $105.50. The double leveraged short ETF (YCS) soared from $42 to $57.93. It’s a good thing that I was short the entire time.

In fact, I have devoted 20% of my entire capital to short yen plays since the beginning of the year. Newly elected Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, was my willing coconspirator this week, announcing one of the most ambitious, expansionary budgets in history. The vice governor of the Bank of Japan chipped in, suggesting that the yen had more room to fall. Another senior government official suggested that ¥100 to the dollar might be a reasonable target. It seems that any time someone in Tokyo says “boo”, another round of yen selling by traders ensues.

But like all good things, this trade is getting rather long in the tooth. I’ll tell you how this is going to end. When the cash market declines to ¥96 to the dollar, the grumblings about unfair import competition by the US car industry will escalate to an uproar. At ¥100 to the dollar it will balloon into a full blown trade dispute. So get ready to start hearing a lot about Japan’s unfair manipulation of their currency to undervalued levels, especially from congressmen from Midwest states with large car plants.

The yen will probably fall short of that. The last time this happened, in the early 1990’s, the US was afraid that Japan was taking over the world. Our country was recoiling from a Japanese share of the American car market that had ratcheted up from 1% to 43% in just 20 years. Remember the tome “Japan is Number One”? You have to laugh now.

Those fears abated long ago. A Japanese collapse on the scale of an IMF bailout is now much more likely than Japanese dominance. It’s tough to smack down an international competitor that is trying to claw its way up after 20 years on the mat. One complicating factor this time is that the principal lobbyist against a stronger yen is now US government owned, General Motors (GM).

I get emails every day from readers asking if they should initiate, double up, or triple up their short positions in the yen. As of today, I am saying no more. My best-case scenario had Japan’s beleaguered currency plunging to ¥92 over the course of the next several months. Here we are over that figure in just ten weeks. So at best, a short yen position is a “HOLD” here. Don’t chase it any more. Remember, hogs get fed, but pigs get slaughtered.

Japan is not an entirely bad place. Certainly the world would be a duller, more boring place without sushi, sake, hot tubs, and karaoke. And I never heard anyone complain about those coed public baths. Too bad I could never find a pair of sandals that fit.

FXY 2-1-13Six Month Chart

FXY 5YRFive Year Chart

YCS 2-1-13

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