Currency wars come to Moscow as G20 spars over yen

Feb 15 2013, 13:25 IST
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The yen has fallen by around 20 percent since November, triggering a rally in Japanese stocks. (Reuters) The yen has fallen by around 20 percent since November, triggering a rally in Japanese stocks. (Reuters)
SummaryThe yen has fallen by around 20 percent since November, triggering a rally in Japanese stocks.

It may not be hand-to-hand combat, but 'currency wars' came to Moscow on Friday as finance officials from the Group of 20 nations sparred over Japan's expansive policies that have driven down the value of the yen.

The G20 forum, which put together a huge financial backstop to halt a market meltdown in 2009, is back in the spotlight after a week in which the Group of Seven rich nations tried, and spectacularly failed, to speak on currencies with one voice.

The G7 has long been the powerhouse of financial diplomacy. But tension between Washington and Tokyo has risen over new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's bid to end two decades of deflation.

The G7 issued a joint statement on Tuesday reaffirming "our longstanding commitment to market determined exchange rates". Yet the show of unity was quickly undermined by off-the-record briefings critical of Japan.

Hosts Russia say the G20 - which includes leading emerging markets and accounts for 90 percent of the world economy - will back the thrust of the G7 text when they issue their communique on Saturday.

Russia's finance "sherpa", Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak, said the drafting discussion was proving "difficult", but the final text would not single out Japan for criticism.

"There is no competitive devaluation, there are no currency wars," Storchak told reporters. "What's happening is market reaction to exclusively internal decision making."

When the G20 last met in November, its statement contained a call to "refrain from competitive devaluation of currencies" that was omitted by the G7 this week in what Tokyo took to mean its policies had won a free pass.

"As the G20 meeting in Moscow gets underway, the battle lines are drawn - it isn't 'G6 against Japan' as much as it is 'G7 against G13'," French bank Societe Generale wrote in a note.

The United States, G20 delegation sources said, was blocking attempts to agree on a commitment to cut borrowing to replace a collective pledge to halve budget deficits agreed at the G20 Toronto summit in 2010. The so-called Toronto goal expires this year.

The euro zone's largest economy, Germany, and the European Central Bank, want a new borrowing pledge - in line with their own tough medicine for the currency bloc's ailing periphery.

BACK TO THE '80S

The maneouvring on currencies is reminiscent of the 1980s, when the Plaza and Louvre accords sought to manage first the excessive strengthening, and then weakening, of the U.S. dollar.

But, with the collapse of

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