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Currencies

Japan spent $19.7bn on intervention to support the yen

Move in September was first such action in 24 years to stem sharp weakening

The intervention was conducted after the yen slumped to a 24-year low of nearly 146 to the dollar.

TOKYO (Reuters) -- Japan's government spent up to 2.8 trillion yen ($19.7 billion) intervening in the foreign exchange market last week to prop up the yen, Ministry of Finance data showed on Friday, draining nearly 15% of funds it has readily available for intervention.

The figure was less than the 3.6 trillion yen estimated by Tokyo money market brokers for Japan's first dollar-selling, yen-buying intervention in 24 years to stem the currency's sharp weakening.

The ministry's figure, indicating total spending on currency intervention from Aug. 30 to Sept. 28, is widely believed to have been used entirely for the Sept. 22 intervention and would surpass the previous record for dollar-selling, yen-buying intervention in 1998 of 2.62 trillion yen. Confirmation on the dates of the spending will be released in November.

The intervention, conducted after the yen slumped to a 24-year low of nearly 146 to the dollar, triggered a sharp bounce of more than 5 yen per dollar from that low, although the currency has since drifted down again to around 144.25.

Japan held roughly $1.3 trillion in reserves, the second biggest after China, of which $135.5 billion was held as deposits parked with foreign central banks and the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), according to foreign reserves data released on Sept. 7. Those deposits can easily be tapped to finance further dollar-selling, yen-buying intervention.

"Even if it were to intervene again, Japan likely won't have to sell U.S. Treasury bills and instead tap this deposit for the time being," said Izuru Kato, chief economist at Totan Research, a think-tank arm of a major money market brokerage firm in Tokyo.

If the deposits dry up, Japan would need to dip into its securities holdings sized around $1.04 trillion.

Of the main types of foreign assets Japan holds, deposits and securities are the most liquid and can be converted into cash immediately.

Other holdings include gold, reserves at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and IMF special drawing rights (SDRs), although procuring dollar funds from these assets would take time, analysts say.

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