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 user 2008-12-12 at 10:53:59 am Views: 40
  • #20446
    Currency Pain in Asia
    Japanese Competitive Edge Gets Lost in Translation
    In an economic slump, the lowest cost producer wins. That is, unless, the low-cost producer is a Japanese company.The yen has emerged from the credit crunch as one of the year’s best-performing currencies. It is up 20% against the dollar, and 35% against the euro.
    An electronic board shows the 12-month movement of the Japanese yen against the Hong Kong dollar in October.

    movement of Japanese yen
    Add in the impact of plunging currencies among its Asian rivals, and Japan’s exporters have a real problem on their hands. South Korea’s currency, the won, has tumbled 31% against the dollar this year, for example. It is down 43% against the yen.Small wonder then that, in local-currency terms, shares of Korea’s Samsung Electronics have fallen only 13%, while those of Japanese rival Toshiba are down more than 61%.

    Even if both sell a DVD player for $60 at Best Buy, the profits they’ll take back to Seoul and Tokyo will be starkly different. It also means that Samsung has room to cut prices further than Toshiba does, without hammering margins in local currency. If the currency adjustment lasts for any length of time, it provides a chance for Samsung to boost market share.But Japan isn’t alone in this pickle. The won also is down 29% against the new Taiwan dollar, giving Korean memory-chip makers a similar edge over their Taiwanese rivals.

    Like Japan, China has also seen its currency strengthen as a result of Beijing’s exchange-rate fixing mechanism. A 23% drop in the rupee against the yuan means the advantage swings to clothing factories in India.When the won last slumped this much a decade ago, South Korea relied on exports to nurse itself back to health.

    A repeat might be more challenging with American and European consumers wary of buying some goods even at deep discounts. Meanwhile, currency fluctuations take time to have an effect, because importers and suppliers need time to adjust contracts.But if the currency moves last, Korea’s extra competitiveness may give a fillip to the economy in 2009, even though Korea also could face negative effects from a weak won, such as more expensive imported raw materials.

    One question is whether those with strong currencies look for a way to protect their exporters. Competitive devaluations don’t appear on the agenda right now for Japan and China.But China already has given a signal that the steady upward climb of the yuan against the U.S. dollar could be over for now. And speculators have started betting that a deep global recession could yet inspire more radical currency moves.