BOB MOON: The big earthquake and tsunami back in March did serious damage to Japan’s economic health. And if we needed any proof we’re globally co-dependent, take a look at how anemic growth here in the U.S. is complicating Japan’s recovery efforts.
The Bank of Japan intervened today to slow the rise of the yen against the dollar. That’ll help Japanese companies sell more abroad. For more on this, we’ve got Ken Courtis on the line from Singapore. He’s a former Goldman Sachs exec, and now the head of Themes Investment Management in Asia. Good morning.
KEN COURTIS: Good morning.
MOON: Why did Japan decide to respond like this?
COURTIS: I think Japan is in a real conundrum. Its domestic economy is weakening — consumer spending is extremely fragile. The little growth it’s been getting these last few years have been through exports to America, to Europe and China, and they’re all slowing. In this increasingly complex global risk environment I think that the Japanese felt that this was too strong a currency, and if it remained that strong, it could push their economy back into a recession.
MOON: What about in the U.S.? Does the Federal Reserve have any more tools left in its tool box?
COURTIS: Well, it’s got the one tool that it could use — and that’s just to try to pump more money in the economy. The problem in the U.S. is the banks have extremely fragile balance sheets because they’re still carrying all this bad debt from the residential real estate crash. Real estate prices, and at least household prices — home prices, are going down still in the U.S., so that’s creating more problems for the U.S. banks, so when the Fed pumps more money into the economy because the banks are so afraid and fragile, instead of lending money, they’re just hoarding it. Just afraid that if there is a new downturn in the economy, they’ve got a whole new round of bad debt and bankruptcies to deal with.
MOON: Investment Management Ken Courtis in Asia. Thanks for your insights.
COURTIS: You’re welcome.