On April 4th, the new Bank of Japan president Haruhiko Kuroda outdid the U.S. by launching the most aggressive quantitative easing program the modern world has ever seen. In an overt effort to combat deflation, Kuroda pledged to double the amount of Yen in circulation with the goal of raising Japan's rate of inflation to 2%.
Kuroda made a point of emphasizing that he wouldn't hesitate to expand the program if the inflation target wasn't met.
Not at all coincidentally the policy jump-started an already robust rally in Japanese stocks. The Nikkei 225 (^N225) now stands at levels not seen since 2008. U.S. investors long Japan via the iShares MSCI Japan Index ETF (EWJ) have seen shares rise more than 20% year-to-date and more than 12% since Kuroda unveiled his scheme.
Peter Schiff, president of Euro Pacific Capital and author of The Real Crash, says Japan is only making things worse by pursuing inflation. "Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it," he warns. "I think you're about to see a big dose of consumer price increases in Japan based on a weakening and that's not going to be good news for the Japanese economy or the Japanese consumer."
Japan's moves to weaken the Yen have been a boon for the dollar. On April 1st, $1 would buy 93 yen. Today a buck will get you just under 100 yen; a huge short-term move by currency standards.
As is the case in the U.S., artificially low rates and a weak currency are taking a toll on Japanese savers. "If the government says we're going to get 2% inflation and you're sitting on a bond that yields 1/4 of 1% and the price of everything is going up, why would you sit and hold on to those bonds? So there is a crisis coming," says Schiff.
So far the crisis both here and in the Land of the Perpetually Setting Sun is being masked by equity prices rising faster than inflation by any measure. As Schiff sees it, the printing ends in tears for both the U.S. and Japan, the only difference is Japan's in better shape to handle the fallout.
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- Peter Schiff