As we noted earlier, in a paradoxical U-turn, one which caught everyone by surprise as a result of Kuroda’s own promise just one week ago not to engage in NIRP…
… and two months after the ECB’s December 3 disappointing announcement led to a historic surge in the EUR, today countless macro hedge funds have been left reeling with huge losses once again, as many had recently turned bullish on the Yen…
… only to be eviscerated by the BOJ’s negative rates announcement.
So what happened? Reuters has an amusing take, one which we doubt many macro HFs will find quite entertaining:
Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda used classic shock tactics on Friday to push through his latest unconventional monetary policy of negative rates: deny, then strike.
The paradox, of course, is that by “striking”, Kuroda slammed precisely those who were meant to benefit the most from the BOJ’s action: financial institutions. To be sure, it is not just hedge funds who will be left reeling but Japanese banks themselves, because as a result of negative rates, their NIM will go horizontal and lead to even more pronounced losses, something European banks – such as Deutsche Bank – have discovered the hard way over the past year and a half.
There are other problems with the BOJ’s seemingly chaotic, if not panicked, decision: as Reuters adds, “a razor-thin 5-4 vote underscores the difficulty Kuroda had in winning enough board backing for his shock tactic, and illustrates the doubts among board members about the governor’s line that by sticking to a 2 percent inflation goal the BOJ can make people believe prices will rise.”
In a note released this morning, Goldman itself warns that it has “concerns” about Kuroda’s act, the key one being that while it crushed many market participants, the BOJ’s action will have no benefit for the actual economy (and in fact it will end up hurting banks whose NIMs are about to pancake):
… we do have concerns about the policy transmission channel. Policy Board Member Koji Ishida, who voted against the new measures, said that “a further decline in JGB yields would not have significantly positive effects on economy activity.” We concur with this sentiment, particularly for capex. The key determinants of capex in Japan are the expected growth rate and uncertainty about the future as seen by corporate management according to our analysis, while the impact of real long-term rates has weakened markedly in recent years.
Of interest to us was the growth and inflation forecasts in the Outlook for Economic Activity and Prices (Outlook Report) also released on January 29. As we expected, the BOJ cut the FY2016 core CPI outlook to +0.8%, from +1.4% in October, but other growth rate and price outlooks were largely unchanged. The future benefits of changing to this historical policy regime (i.e., introducing a negative interest rate) were hardly factored in by the Policy Board despite the above explanation of the policy transmission channels made by Governor Kuroda.
In our view, this suggests that the BOJ intended to affect the expectations of forex market participants with a bold and surprising announcement. As we mentioned above, Governor Kuroda had continuously rejected the possibility of cutting interest rates in the Diet and other public forums until only recently. Governor Kuroda may have spotted a chance to surprise at the January 29 MPM having seen a substantial decline in market expectations for an interest rate cut as a result of this. He declared that the BOJ is prepared to lower the interest rate further into negative territory if it decided this was necessary, and introduced examples of countries with large negative interest rates such as Switzerland (-0.75%) and Sweden (-1.1%). We believe this was also intended to keep expectations alive in the forex market going forward.
Translated, this means that just like China’s central bank, which in recent weeks has been panicking over how to scare currency speculators away from shorting its currency too far, and thus unleashing a surge in capital outflows (which as we wrote yesterday are estimated to have hit a near record $185 billion in January), the BOJ is likewise scrambling to prevent aggressive shorting of the JPY, and now that it has unleashed NIRP will use it as the “backstop bazooka” that can be used at any given moment when the USDJPY gets too low, spooking speculators and other hedge funds who have ironically been the biggest beneficiaries from BOJ policies.
But how did Draghi get the idea to engage in NIRP specifically as the? Reuters writes that it all started precisely a week ago: on Jan. 21, a day before flying out for the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Kuroda told Japan’s parliament he was not considering negative interest rates. But he quietly told his staff to come up with several options in case the BOJ eased.”
Of course, our staff knew that several central banks have adopted negative interest rates, so they’ve been analyzing the step for some time,” Kuroda said at a news conference on Friday. “They raised it as one of the options, which we discussed at today’s meeting.”
By the time Kuroda returned from Davos, BOJ staff were ready to propose negative rates, taking a leaf from the European Central Bank’s book. “The ECB showed that combining QE and negative interest rates can work,” one BOJ official said. “It was just a question of overcoming some technical difficulties.”
Which at least superficially makes sense: one can be wrong, but if the right intentions are good – it can be excused. But the punchline that should leave everyone speechless is that it wasn’t even the right intention. Instead, it was this:
People close to Kuroda say that Davos – where he mingled with central bankers such as ECB President Mario Draghi and leading company executives – likely prompted him to pull the trigger. “Davos is really important. Many central bank governors change their perception of things there,” said one central bank policymaker who has regular interaction with Kuroda.
In other words, it was peer pressure by other, just as desperate central bankers, that forced Kuroda to act!
Actually, it’s even worse than that, because that is just half of the story. Here is the other half, again thanks to Reuters:
“When stocks are falling this much, it’s hard to justify not acting,” said one of the individuals, who has occasional contact with Kuroda.
And there you have it: stocks are dropping, so central banks must intervene, just as they have done from day one. Just as Draghi did most recently on December 4 when asked if his speech was meant to talk up markets: recall the exchange: “was today’s speech deliberately designed to try offset some of the reaction yesterday?” to which Draghi’s response was legendary: “Not really… well, of course.”
This was followed by loud laughter, and why not: Draghi had succeeded in pushing stocks higher, if only for the time being.
Just like Kuroda has done today. Alas, just like in December, the laughter won’t last. First, as MarketWatch notes, “The move does speak to a certain degree of desperation.”
Finally, there’s this disturbing bit from Goldman’s take of the BOJ’s decision:
Regarding the Introduction of Supplementary Measures for Quantitative and Qualitative Monetary Easing announced at the December 2015 MPM, we believe the BOJ thinks that JGB purchases will have reached their technical limit in quantitative terms eventually,and it is highly likely it was a last-ditch measure to somehow maintain the current pace of purchases for some time. If not, we would have expected the BOJ not to introduce a negative interest rate this time either and to have opted instead to further increase JGB purchases.
And when none other than Goldman Sachs says the Bank of Japan engaged in a “last-ditch measure”