* Fed and BOJ asset buying to undermine dollar, yen
* Euro and pound to benefit despite dour growth outlook
* Yen "carry trades" may drive currency markets in 2013
By Anirban Nag
LONDON, Jan 4 The yen and dollar face a tough
2013 as the Japanese and U.S. central banks print money
furiously to stimulate their economies, making the euro and
sterling unlikely relative winners despite Europe's gloomy
With a global economic recovery looking shaky, analysts say
the major central banks will be happy to see their currencies
weaken this year if it helps their exporters to become more
This could trigger a round of competitive devaluations among
the world's most heavily-traded currencies, with Japan a likely
winner in this race for weakness as its new government tries to
end decades of regular recessions and deflation.
Currency forecasting is notoriously difficult and movements
often seem at first to lack logic. For instance the euro rose
1.8 percent against the dollar in 2012 despite the threat of a
euro zone break-up, although the gains followed a European
Central Bank promise to safeguard the currency union.
Undaunted, analysts expect the yen to be the worst
performer, while the dollar may lag the euro and the pound even
though the United States is likely to outperform the euro zone
and British economies in 2013.
This is because the U.S. Federal Reserve plans to flood
markets with a trillion dollars in stimulus this year by buying
mortgage and government bonds, pushing down the value of the
U.S. currency. Similarly, the Bank of Japan is preparing to pump
trillions of yen into its stagnant economy.
Their actions should outstrip any similar move by the Bank
of England, which has paused its printing presses, or the ECB.
In the foreign exchange market, where a currency is always
valued relative to another, a fall in the dollar or yen will
push the euro and sterling higher.
"Major central banks printing more money and debasing the
most liquid currencies is a major theme that will play out in
the currency market this year," said Tom Levinson, FX strategist
at ING, referring to the Fed and BOJ.
Some investors will not necessarily trade one major currency
for another and instead opt for the likes of the Australian
dollar. "What this liquidity injection will spark is a push
towards less liquid and more risky currencies," Levinson added.
Flooding markets with dollars and yen will help to gloss
over any weakness in the euro and the pound caused by the
struggling economies of Europe.
"Central bank action, especially that of the Fed and the BOJ
will help paint over cracks in the macroeconomic picture, both
in the euro zone and UK," said Jane Foley, senior currency
strategist at Rabobank.
"Currencies will not move in a straight line. But we expect
the euro to rise against the dollar to $1.35 in the medium term.
The dollar will generally have a poor year, as will the yen."
The euro is trading now around $1.3050, having gained
rapidly after the ECB conditionally promised in the late summer
to buy bonds of struggling euro zone countries, should their
governments seek international aid.
Since then, no government has requested a bailout and Spain
says it does not need help at the moment. However, should the
ECB start buying bonds, its programme would differ significantly
from those of the Fed or BOJ. Its objective would be to help
governments continue borrowing commercially at affordable
interest rates, rather than stimulating the euro zone economy.
With Germany wary of anything that might be inflationary,
ECB policymakers have promised not to crank up the euro printing
presses. Any money spent on bonds would be "sterilised", meaning
the ECB would withdraw equivalent sums from the banking system.
Early signs of the trends forecast for this year are already
apparent. The euro rose 15 percent against the yen in 2012,
hitting a 1-1/2 year high this week.
The pound stands at multi-month highs against the dollar and
yen, mainly because of the dollar and yen weakness and not
because of a British economic turnaround, traders said.
The Fed has already made heavy asset purchases which have
expanded its balance sheet. Some Fed policymakers have expressed
concern about the long-term risks of this, even though they look
set to continue the open-ended stimulus programme for the
John Normand, head of global FX strategy at JPMorgan, said
the Fed and BOJ actions would boost the balance sheets of major
central banks by about 10 percent this year, on a par with the
pace seen in 2012 when both the yen and the dollar lagged the
euro and sterling.
The large cash injections have prevented a sharp contraction
in economic activity and restricted swings in foreign exchange
markets, making it harder for investors to make money in the
most traded currencies.
That has driven many to take bigger positions in the less
liquid and riskier currencies and Normand said the flood of
liquidity in 2013 will ensure investors keep using "carry
trades" in the search for higher returns.
In carry trades, investors such as hedge funds borrow money
in the more liquid and low interest-bearing dollar and yen to
buy higher-yielding currencies like the Australian dollar
Reflecting the expected slide in the yen, it will emerge as
the favourite funding currency in 2013, analysts said.
"We would expect the yen's use as a funding currency to
broaden in the coming year," Morgan Stanley said in a recent
report, forecasting the dollar to rise to 90 yen in the coming
months from around 88 yen on Friday.
While the yen and the dollar are likely to struggle, any
glimmer of recovery in the euro zone and Britain - where
investors have priced in expectations of a prolonged slowdown -
could give both the euro and the British pound a fillip.
BNP Paribas strategists expect sterling to outperform the
euro and the dollar. The bank expects the
euro to drop to 80 pence in a few weeks, from around 81.20 now,
and forecasts sterling at $1.68 in coming months, from $1.60,
once global recovery gathers pace and UK exports pick up.
While the euro may lag the pound it could rise against the
dollar, drawing support from the ECB's promise to do whatever it
takes to preserve the euro and the fact that the Fed will be
pumping in more dollars.
"What looks absolutely assured is that in the first half of
2013, the Fed's balance sheet will expand significantly more
than the ECB assets," said Alan Ruskin, macro strategist at
Deutsche Bank, adding this was likely to lead to a lower dollar.
Ruskin expects the ECB's balance sheet to shrink slightly by
100 billion euros until it starts any bond purchases.
"While uncertainties remain in the euro zone, as well as a
weak growth outlook, we view the euro is likely to remain
supported and reach $1.35 by end-Q1," BNP Paribas said.