WASHINGTON/TOKYO -- U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday launched a verbal broadside against China and Japan, accusing them of devaluing their currencies to the detriment of Americans.
"You look at what China's doing, you look at what Japan has done over the years. They play the money market, they play the devaluation market and we sit there like a bunch of dummies," he said in a meeting with pharmaceutical company executives.
He also argued that other countries "take advantage of the U.S. with their money and their money supply and devaluation," saying that Japan has been guiding its currency lower against the dollar.
It is unclear what Trump means by "money supply," but he may have in mind the Bank of Japan's quantitative easing policy and other measures.
"The claim that Japan is inducing yen depreciation is not applicable," Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a budget committee meeting in the House of Representatives on Wednesday. "We will explain this [to Trump], if necessary," Abe said. He also said the government has entrusted monetary policy to the Bank of Japan in order to achieve the country's 2% inflation target.
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga also took issue with Trump's claims at a news conference on Wednesday. "Foreign exchange [rates] should be determined in the market," Suga said. He added that Japan will continue to make policy in line with Group of Seven and Group of 20 agreements ruling out competitive currency devaluations.
In Tokyo trade at 8:30 a.m., the dollar was down 0.80 yen from Tuesday at 5 p.m., trading at 112.72-112.74 yen. The greenback was trading around 113.13 yen at 3 p.m.
The Nikkei Stock Average closed at 19148.08 on Wednesday, up 0.56% from the previous day. But shares of Japanese exporters with high exposure to the dollar finished broadly lower. Toyota fell 0.58% and Sony slipped 0.38%.
Trump accused Japan of guiding its currency lower during the presidential campaign, but Tuesday's remarks were the first time he has mentioned the dollar-yen exchange rate since taking office.
The president is likely to raise the issue of the massive U.S. trade deficit with Japan when he meets Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the White House on Feb. 10. Trump, who has previously called Japan's automotive trade with the U.S. unfair, is now shifting his criticism to Japan's currency policy.
Japan insists it is not trying to drive the yen lower; it has not intervened in the currency market since 2011. Since Abe took office in 2012, however, the yen has weakened against the greenback, due in part to the central bank's aggressive buying of government bonds and other securities. Trump's criticism of that policy may hamper Japan's efforts to beat deflation.
The leaders and monetary authorities of the G-7 as well as the G-20 have agreed to avoid competitive devaluations. Although foreign exchange markets are swayed by the monetary policies of central banks such as the U.S. Federal Reserve, the BOJ and the European Central Bank, currency depreciations resulting from monetary easing have been tolerated. The Fed's quantitative easing after the 2008 global financial crisis also prompted the dollar to fall.
Trump's criticism of the foreign exchange policies of other countries is likely to have a significant impact on the market. Trump has also faulted China for devaluing its currency, but China has frequently intervened directly in the market over the years, something that Japan has not done much. Tokyo says its policies are based on market-economy principles.
Trump has stressed that he aims to eliminate the U.S. trade deficit through bilateral talks with trading partners. Given his protectionist "America First" policies, there are concerns in the currency market that the yen may rise sharply.