MARSEILLE, France (Reuters) - The yen took a back seat at the Group of Seven finance ministers’ meeting, which grappled with Europe’s debt crisis and global economic slowdown, but Japan said it met little resistance to further intervention.
The G7 economic powers gave a muted reaction to Japan’s call to endorse its right to unilateral action against speculators pushing up its currency, but Japanese officials and some analysts said the subdued response suggests the G7 could let Japan intervene in the market again if needed.
“We intervened in August and I told the (G7) that we will continue to watch the situation closely and flexibly, and take decisive steps against speculative moves,” Finance Minister Jun Azumi told a news conference late on Friday after the G7 talks.
“No countries voiced opinions against our explanation. I believe we gained understanding toward our view on currencies.”
A senior finance ministry official said the G7 had not ruled out the chance of solo intervention by Japan.
In the run-up to the meeting, Japanese officials vowed to seek G7 understanding on Tokyo’s intentions to counter yen rises that threaten to derail a recovery from the March earthquake which tipped the world’s No. 3 economy into recession.
“Japan could not ask for more as it just avoided blunt criticism from other countries against its past intervention,” said Masafumi Yamamoto, Japan chief forex strategist at Barclays Capital in Tokyo.
On Saturday, Azumi told reporters that U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner had not voiced opposition in an early morning bilateral meeting.
“He was smiling but did not refute. He appears to understand the situation,” Azumi said.
Japan has conducted three currency interventions over the past year — one rare co-ordinated action with the G7 shortly after the March 11 disaster and two solo moves.
Yamamoto said further intervention to curb excess volatility
may not meet international opposition as long as it was not done frequently or aimed at guiding currency rates toward specific levels as Switzerland did this week by setting an exchange cap on its soaring currency.
Japan’s economy is now recovering from recession, while Europe and the United States face a slowdown, so Tokyo has been having a hard time convincing its G7 counterparts of the need for intervention.
European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet said early last month that currency interventions “have to be made on the basis of a multilateral consensus,” signaling displeasure at Japan’s solo action on August 4.
In Marseille, Japanese officials including Bank of Japan Governor Masaaki Shirakawa blamed the yen’s rise on global economic woes that have been amplified by Europe’s debt crisis — the central topic of debate at the G7 talks.
“Such an argument may have discouraged Europe from being critical of Japan’s intervention. As a result, Japan may have gained a free hand in intervening in the currency market,” said Takahide Kiuchi, chief economist at Nomura Securities.
Japan faces higher hurdles persuading the G7 of the need for a joint intervention, which is seen as more effective in curbing excess currency moves.
On Friday, the G7 issued a statement that said exchange rates should be determined by markets and pledged: “We will consult closely in regard to actions in exchange markets and would cooperate as appropriate.”
“The G7 is not in a situation where it needs to do something about currencies as it focuses on how to balance public finances while facing slowing economy,” said Barclay’s Yamamoto.
“The foreign exchange market is reflecting debt problems in the West but it is not causing problems. So G7 must be feeling there’s no use dealing with currencies to resolve the market situation.”
Editing by Catherine Bremer/Mike Peacock