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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

FT front page roundup: Learning Japanese Edition

General Motors is set to propose a radical restructuring initiative in order to secure more of your money. The United Auto Workers however are balking over being paid in Smarties. Fucking unions. Barack Obama meanwhile has decided not to appoint a "car czar" and will instead just make Tim Geithner President of Cars and Banks.

Pantsuit of Freedom Hillary Clinton arrived in Japan on her first foreign visit as secretary of state. Her delegation was briefly delayed on the tarmac as translators struggled over the phrase for, "Where's the black one?"

We're never leaving Iraq, if only to boost employment figures. Hippies were right about something finally.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is attempting to seize the moment while the head of his competition dies to plug his new smartphones.

And Japan suffered a 3.3% quarterly drop in GDP, holy fucking shit. Quarterly. The annualized drop is 12.7%, which again, holy fucking shit. Japan has been hit simultaneously with plummeting demand for its exports and an unwinding of the "carry trade" which has sent the yen skyrocketing against the currencies of its trading partners.

Investors had been taking advantage of Japan's super low interest rates by borrowing in yen to buy higher-yielding whatevers. Free money while it lasted, but as in all things finance, its fucking great until it isn't. Rate moves in places like New Zealand and Australia as well as general risk aversion in response to the financial crisis set this trade backwards, pushing up the yen, thereby making more carry trades unprofitable, pushing up the yen more, and so on. So while much of Asia is blessed with the same already sclerotic export environment, Japan gets to enjoy the herpes simplex 10 of currency appreciation.

In the face of the new GDP figures, some in Japan's ruling LDP are calling for a beefed up economic stimulus, proposing ¥30trn ($17) in addition to the meager amount agreed to last year. More exciting still is the possibility that the crisis will be the death knell of the LDP, which has ruled post-war Japan for nearly its entirety, save for a few months in the early 90s. The LDP, already riven by factionalism, is seeing much of it aired in the open, which is unusual. This gives the opposition DPJ a chance to win the elections later this year, despite being run by Ichiro Ozawa, who by all accounts is a huge toolbag.

But either way, Japan is fucked. The only possible way out of this besides a miraculous improvement in exports is an increase in consumption but that actually fell last quarter, too.
Asked for domestic triggers for a return to growth, one Tokyo economist just laughs. “There’s nothing at all,” he says.
More worrying still is that the Japanese social safety net is still geared around its employers since near-permanent jobs had been the norm for decades. But a large slice of the workforce is now on temporary contracts and they have little recourse to unemployment benefits, depending instead on the liberal distribution of hobo beans by civic-minded charities.

Incidentally, the Japanese word for a recessiony depression-type thing, apparently, is fukyo. Fuck, yo, indeed.

...Also yes, I know the Japanese finance minister was drunk at a press conference at the G7 meetings but I'm fucking not showing it because everyone else already has. But here, watch this instead. It contains a compelling metaphor for the task facing Japan's new finance minister, and the dozens surely to come in the next year.



Oh yea, and Al Gore, who has been trying to raise planetary awareness by looking like one, is all up in my FT.

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