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Thursday, 19 April 2012

Japanese Fugu Economics

The preparation of sashimi (raw fish) from the blowfish is a historic tradition in the nation of Japan.

The trouble is that parts of the blowfish are highly poisonous causing paralysis and death by suffocation.

Still it is a popular dish and as recently as 2009 seven people fell victim to the poison in Tokyo following a poorly prepared batch and ended up eating the testicles of one fish. Recently the regulations have changed and chefs will no longer have to complete the full two years training in order to serve this dish to the public.

The Japanese have likewise made plans to cover the area irradiated by the Fukushima nuclear plant in tents and will start burning radioactive debris. Of course you cannot destroy radioactive debris in this way, but it will spread it around the globe having released the settled debris from the ground back into the air. The tents will have the effect also of funnelling the radioactivity straight into the air. But radiation is not the only toxic substance that Japan has spread round the world.

Japan of cause has previously spread a toxic waste around the world, namely the idea of Quantative Easing and 0% interest rates (the lost decade is now closer to three decades). People began borrowing Yen at low interest rates and converting it to other currencies where they earnt more interest (particularly from Iceland) effectively earning money for nothing.

So who you wonder was paying for this? Well Japan has the largest public pension fund in the world of $1.3 trillion dollars two thirds of which must be invested in government bonds (yielding less than 1% per year). Savings rates in Japan have been gradually drained and are less than 2% of the GDP, very soon there will be nothing left and Japan will soon have to look outside for buyers of its debt.

Until recently Japan has a massive trade surplus year on year and the 'profits' were lent to the United States in order to keep the value of the Yen relative to the dollar, a policy which was duplicated by the Chinese.

The reason was that in order to allow Americans to continue to buy Japanese goods the exchange rate had to be prevented from rising in order to keep the goods at the 'right price'.

Since Fukushima, Japan has become a net importer - it has switched off its nuclear plants and is importing oil, it is importing resources to re-build etc. The yen rallied strongly post the explosion as the dollar sank, as Japan was now an importer rather than an exporter this was good for the economy, but Japan has long sacrificed itself to the American economy and once again printed more money and propped up the ailing dollar.

Now though Japan is exposed to externalities - a surge in oil prices not the least of them. One of these externalities is bound to hit and soon. The Japanese economy is feasting on fugu and soon enough the Japanese government will have to eat a mouthful of poison.

Japan is inevitable going to experience inflation, the interest rates will have to rise and with it the cost of servicing its debt. Fortunately most of the people who own the debt live in Japan and so the money will stay in the economy, unlike what will follow in the United States, where most of the debt is owed to China.