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Japan's Economics Minister Unmoved by Tumbling Yen - 2002-01-11


Growing concerns about the falling yen and the supply of semiconductors in the global market hurt trading in Asian markets this week.

The yen settled around 132-to-the-dollar in Tokyo trading, after the country's finance ministry said that it had fallen too fast. The yen has lost about 10 percent of its value against the dollar over the past two months.

Japanese government officials have been at odds over how far the yen will be allowed to depreciate. A weaker yen makes Japanese products more affordable in its main export markets, such as the United States. But some are worried over its impact on Japan's debt-ridden economy.

Economics Minister Heizo Takenaka, during his visit to the United States, told TV Tokyo that Washington does not seem concerned about the yen's weakness.

"During my talks here with American officials, we have not had any discussions about the exchange rate. The rate is decided by supply and demand. Governments can only reflect on this and do a good job on the macro-economic side," Mr. Takenaka said.

In Kuala Lumpur, where Japan's prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, was visiting Thursday, Malaysia's leader, Mahathir Mohamad, said he will watch carefully to see how the weak yen affects other Asian currencies.

In the region's stock markets, Tokyo's benchmark Nikkei stock index sank for four straight days. The broader TOPIX slid to close below the 1,000 level for the first time since December 26. Analysts say the yen's decline has shifted investors' attention back to Japan's weak economic fundamentals.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index fell 600 points during the week. Shares in China Mobile and China Unicom led the decline. The two mobile phone service providers were hurt by Beijing's confirmation that it intends to create more competitors in the sector in the next few years.

In Singapore, shares of Singapore International Airlines fell three percent Friday after the company announced it is cutting wages by about seven percent. Overall, the Straits Times Index was virtually unchanged for the week.

Korea's Composite Stock Index fell about 2.75 percent. Concerns that a rise in spot semiconductor prices may not last prompted selling of chipmakers, such as Samsung Electric and Hynix Semiconductor. Hynix's creditors denied a report that Micron, the world's second largest maker of memory chips, is set to take over Hynix's memory chip business this month.

The biggest loser was Taiwan, which fell more than three-percent Friday, after sell-off in Taiwanese semiconductor companies in reaction to the apparent lack of a Hynix-Micron agreement. This is its biggest single day decline since December 21.