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Japan’s retail investors eye risky wagers on yen intervention

Tan KW
Publish date: Sun, 23 Jun 2024, 02:27 PM
Tan KW
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An army of retail traders appears to be reloading bets for a rebound in the yen as the currency’s slide increases the chances of Japan intervening in the market again.

Bullish positions on the yen against the US dollar have been building since mid-May via futures contracts that cater to individual Japanese investors, data from Tokyo Financial Exchange Inc show. These wagers tumbled on April 29 and May 1-2, around the time when the government is thought to have stepped into the market, indicating that retail traders sold the yen to take profit.

With the yen dropping back toward 160 versus the US dollar, retail traders are on the edge of their seats wanting intervention to come as soon as possible, according to Takuya Kanda, head of research at the analysis unit of Gaitame.com, a Japanese online brokerage that caters to individual forex traders.  

Trying to ride the government’s coattails to riches is a risky strategy, especially for those using borrowed money to amplify returns. Some investors were badly burned when the ministry of finance (MOF) ordered the Bank of Japan into the market to defend the currency in April and May. But others who got the timing right made millions of yen.

“I should say, thank you MOF. It’s a huge opportunity,” said Keisuke Oikawa, a 58-year-old Japanese retail investor based in Singapore. Oikawa said he made about ¥1.5 million (US$9,400) from various cross-currency trades that took advantage of fluctuations in the market around when Japan intervened in April-May.

Comments on Friday from the nation’s top foreign-exchange official, Masato Kanda, are likely to give fresh encouragement to traders like Oikawa. Kanda said Japan would continue to take appropriate measures to address any excessive moves in the yen, despite being included in the US Treasury Department’s so-called “monitoring list” for forex practices.

The number of currency trading accounts in Japan rose to a record 12.4 million last year, according to Gaitame.com. While many individuals hold small positions, they matter as a group in the world’s currency markets, with research from the central bank showing that Japanese investors account for nearly 30% of the global retail trading.

Government figures show that Japan spent a record amount of ¥9.8 trillion to support the yen between April 26 and May 29. While officials haven’t stated which days they intervened, the moves in the market point to April 29 and May 1.

Those who positioned themselves early for that intervention - or quickly bought yen as the government came into the market - and then locked in profits before it retreated, benefited handsomely.

Others weren’t so lucky. Hayato Imaizumi, a 41-year-old manager of a bar called Stock Pickers in Tokyo’s upscale district of Ginza, said he lost 80% to 90% of his currency investments as he bought the yen when it was trading at around 147 to the dollar, thinking intervention would happen sooner.

“I didn’t think it would go to 160, and thought it would eventually come back,” said Imaizumi, whose bar is a popular place for retail investors meet and network. After the massive loss, the 10-year veteran forex trader is wondering if he should quit currency trading and focus on stocks instead.

Kumiko Ishikawa, senior analyst at Sony Financial Group Inc, said now that the yen broke 159, there is a strong sense of caution about intervention. Mari Iwashita, chief market economist at Daiwa Securities Co, said the speed of moves from here will be important for authorities in deciding whether to intervene, along with their view on its likely effectiveness.

The yen ended Friday at 159.80 to the US dollar.

Kenichi Kashiwada, a 47-year-old trader and sake bar owner based in Hong Kong, said he made ¥5 million by selling the dollar just as it began to sink due to intervention, and bought it back as it fell even further. But he also said the market turbulence during April-May has unnerved him and that he’s trimmed back on US dollar-yen trades.

“I think there are more opportunities for profit than before, but there may also be more opportunities for loss,” said Kashiwada. “It’s scary.”

 


  - Bloomberg

 

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