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Japanese school scandal provides fodder for yen bulls

Market grapples with the risk of an end to Abenomics

Abenomics has helped keep the yen comfortably weak for Japanese exporters.   © AP

TOKYO -- The re-emergence of a political scandal threatening Shinzo Abe creates support for a strong yen as the currency market takes in the prospect of an abrupt conclusion to the Japanese prime minister's economic program, analysts say.

Forex watchers surveyed this month by QUICK see the Japanese currency at 106.39 yen to the dollar at the end of March, compared with last month's prediction of 109.99 yen for the end of February, the Nikkei group company reported Monday.

Questions surrounding the sale of deeply discounted public land to Moritomo Gakuen, a private school operator with a nationalist curriculum and ties to Abe's wife, emerged a little over a year ago. But they are far more serious now, according to JPMorgan Chase's Toru Sasaki.

The latest QUICK survey was taken before the Ministry of Finance admitted Monday to altering 14 documents related to the sale, removing references to first lady Akie Abe and politicians involved with the school operator.

The prime minister's attempt to jump-start economic growth and beat deflation, dubbed Abenomics, has brought a weaker home currency and rising stock prices. These trends could now head into reverse, Sasaki said, as the scandal raises the possibility of an "Abexit."

Meanwhile, trade frictions between the U.S. and other countries following President Donald Trump's announcement of new steel and aluminum tariffs create conditions for a weaker dollar.

"If the [Abe] government falls, there is a risk that Bank of Japan Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda could depart as well," said Daisuke Karakama of Mizuho Bank, referring to the central bank chief who has overseen the monetary stimulus component of Abenomics.

Karakama's outlook for the yen calls for a high in the 105 range against the dollar through the end of March.

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