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The Japanese yen fell to a seven-year low of 125 against the US dollar on Monday as the Bank of Japan continued easing its monetary policy further widening the gap with the US Federal Reserve’s hawkish tone.

But instead of seeing it as a threat to the Japanese economy, the BOJ reiterated that a weaker yen would have positive effects on pushing Japan’s GDP higher.


BOJ’s divergence from Fed

The US central bank recently raised interest rates for the first time since 2018 and signalled more rate hikes in the coming months to tame rising inflation. The US consumer inflation rate skyrocketed to a four-year high of 7.9% in February, prompting the Fed to take a more hawkish stance despite the lingering COVID-19 pandemic and geopolitical uncertainties.

Conversely, the BOJ continued to loosen its monetary policy, reiterating that it would maintain interest rates at ultra-low levels to support Japan’s economic recovery and as inflation stays below its 2% target. The central bank also offered to purchase an unlimited amount of government bonds from Monday through Thursday this week at 0.25%.

The offer is for debts with maturities of more than five years and up to 10 years. The move is one of the BOJ’s attempts to contain rising bond yields despite US Treasury yields reaching new multi-year highs.

Adding pressure to the yen

The measure further weighed on the yen on Monday, with economists from ING Bank expecting upside risks to prevail beyond 125. They said "130 is well within reach in the near term unless the bond environment improves.”

A depreciation in the Japanese yen would drive up the costs of imports, ultimately hurting households as it would increase the costs of imported goods and other goods for consumption.

It also pushed Japan’s core inflation to a two-year high of 0.8% in March, quicker than market forecasts.

US and Japan inflation and interest rates

Preference for a weaker currency

While many economies beef up efforts to boost the value of their currencies, Japan has been aiming to devalue its currency to gain a competitive advantage in foreign trade. A weak yen will make Japan-made goods more competitive overseas and increase profits that Japanese companies make in foreign markets. It would also lift services exports and increase net income receipts from abroad when converted into yen.

Back in January, the BOJ estimated that a 10% drop in the yen would boost Japan’s gross domestic product by about 1%. In the final months of 2021, Japan’s GDP rose 4.6% year over year, lower than its previous forecast for a 5.4% rise. Fitch Ratings expects Japan’s inflation at 1.8% this year on the back of higher energy prices and yen depreciation.

Preventing another 1998 yen volatility

As the yen continues to fall against the greenback, the markets are closely watching for a recurrence of a wild rebound that occurred in the USDJPY in 1998 at the height of the Asian financial crisis. At the time, the US dollar fell by almost 15% versus the yen from its previous peak. That slump was preceded by a three-year yen depreciation as Japanese authorities believed the yen was overvalued.

Will the yen hit 150 against the greenback?

The question of whether the yen will reach 150 versus the US dollar is more of a when as the Fed maintains its hawkish stance and as the BOJ is poised to keep its loose monetary policy setting in the medium term. This would further widen the gap between their policies, sending the yen lower as Japan continues to book current account deficits due to a jump in oil import prices.

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In what is widely seen as an attempt to circumvent Western sanctions and prop up the Russian ruble, Russian President Vladimir Putin recently required “unfriendly” buyers of the country’s natural gas to pay in rubles, a move that could have far-reaching implications on global oil and energy supply.

"I have decided to implement a set of measures to transfer payment for our gas supplies to unfriendly countries into Russian rubles,” news outlets quoted Putin as saying in a government meeting last week, adding that Russia would turn down payments for natural-gas supplies in currencies “that have compromised themselves,” including dollars and euros.

Putin has given the Russian central bank and gas suppliers like Gazprom, Rosneft and Lukoil a week to implement the change.

Why is Putin pushing for ruble payments?

Russia’s decision came as the country’s oil trade has been left in disarray as importers put orders on hold amid a wide condemnation of the Kremlin’s attacks on Ukraine. Since the war broke out over a month ago, concerns of a global energy crisis intensified, sending pump prices skyrocketing to record highs and fanning global inflation fears.

Economic sanctions imposed by the US and its Western allies have also caused the Russian ruble to fall to record lows in the early weeks since the war started, further weakening the Russian economy.

Putin’s latest move sent the ruble to its strongest in nearly a month against the US dollar last week, although it was still down ~25% this year as of Monday, March 28, at ~106 against the dollar.


Will importers cave in?

Russia supplies nearly 40% of the European Union’s natural gas and over 25% of the region’s crude oil. Although the global oil cartel known as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and other non-OPEC oil-exporting nations played down concerns of a global oil shortage as the war drags on, many industry players fear a potential demand destruction that could cause oil demand to peak and fall when pump prices become too expensive.

To reinstate the balance in oil supply and demand especially during wintertime in Europe, EU-based importers of Russian oil could then choose to yield to Putin’s demands and pay in rubles.

However, EU leaders, shortly after Putin’s announcement, stood firm and rejected the Kremlin’s demands, with Slovenia Prime Minister Janez Jansa saying “nobody will pay in rubles,” Bloomberg News reported. The message was backed by leaders of Ireland, Italy, Croatia, and Germany, among others, ahead of a summit meeting in Brussels. The leaders stressed that Putin’s demand would be in violation of their existing contracts.

Adding to Putin’s woes is US President Joe Biden’s pledge to deliver 15 billion cubic meters of liquified natural gas to Europe this year on top of the shipments that are already on their way to Europe.

The probability of EU importers caving into Russia’s demands are also looking less likely as the EU steps up its efforts to discontinue buying Russian gas before 2030.

Faster transition to renewable energy sources

Instead of a far-reaching energy crisis that many fear could come out of the Russia-Ukraine war, sanctions against Russia and the Kremlin’s countersanctions could accelerate the transition to renewable energy sources. Europe could speed up the construction of LNG terminals across the continent to store LNG deliveries from allies including the US.

Agora Energiewende, a German think-tank, suggests a 32% reduction in Europe’s gas consumption by 2027 if the continent slashes its use of fossil fuels and transition to wind and solar energy in the next five years. This measure could save the EU between 127 billion euros and 318 billion euros on gas imports, the think-tank said. Scaling up renewable energy in the EU could allow the continent to avoid 80% of today’s Russian gas imports by 2027, Agora Energiewende added.

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The prices of cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin, the most popular of the lot, have been highly volatile in recent months due to conflicting regulatory signs and rising interest rates.

Despite the massive sell-off of digital tokens, Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) CEO Elon Musk is among those who are still bullish on digital currencies. As such, the recently reminted $1 trillion dollar company is caught in the crosshairs of movements in the cryptocurrency market.

Bitcoin price crash

After reaching an all-time high of $67.5K in November, the price of Bitcoin is now hovering around $40K since the start of the year. The crash is partly due to remarks from the US Federal Reserve about launching its own digital currency similar to China’s e-renminbi and US President Joe Biden’s recent order directing government agencies to coordinate on a regulatory framework for digital currencies.

While the regulatory forces mentioned above have helped to suppress any upside in digital assets, the largest contributor in the price crash of Bitcoin is the about-face that Musk, and by association Tesla, pulled for its support of Bitcoin. In a way, those cryptocurrency crosshairs are attached to the rifle wielded at times by Musk and Tesla.

Tesla’s $1.5 billion Bitcoin stash

Last year, Tesla revealed that it invested a total of $1.5 billion in Bitcoin and hinted that it may acquire and hold digital assets “from time to time or long-term.” Since that announcement in February 2021, the company has had no additional Bitcoin purchases.

Tesla disclosed in its 2021 annual report that it still held around $1.26 billion worth of digital assets and incurred $101 million of impairment losses on its digital assets.

At the same time, the EV leader also reiterated its confidence in the long-term potential of digital assets both as an investment and as a liquid alternative to cash. However, the carmaker warned, in an ambiguous statement, that it may boost or reduce its digital asset holdings based on its business needs and on its view of market conditions. However, knowing Tesla dependency on Musk as its “product architect and social media manager”, as quoted by Bloomberg, the company’s position on digital currency’s may be far closer aligned with his own personal view than the above statement suggests.

Over a month after the company’s disclosure, Musk on Twitter said he still owns and “won’t sell” his own personal Bitcoin, Ethereum or Dodge holdings, stressing that “it is generally better to own physical things like a home or stock in companies you think make good products, than dollars when inflation is high.”

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Like many stock exchanges globally, the New Zealand stock exchange continues to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic-induced trough of 2020, although volatility remains as the pandemic drags on and as markets face new challenges such as the ongoing geopolitical tensions in Europe.

NZX had a lackluster year in 2021

The NZX 50 ended 2021 flat at 13,033.77, marginally down from 13,091.64 at the end of 2020 after nine consecutive years of growth. The capital market’s lackluster performance came as the New Zealand economy grew at a weaker-than-expected pace in 2021.

Data from the NZX (NZE:NZX) showed that the total value of stocks traded last year fell 2.4% year over year to NZ$52.4 billion, significantly weaker than the 41.8% jump in 2020.

NZX50 D1

Still attractive for IPOs

However, the NZX remained appealing for initial public offerings and secondary listings in 2021, with the value of new capital listed and raised rising 12.1% to $19.8 billion. The bourse hosted the IPOs of nine new companies last year. In 2020, total capital raised from IPOs fell 5.5% to NZ$17.6 billion, with only eight new additions to the NZX.

Last year, local meal kit home delivery service platform My Food Bag (NZE:MFB) launched the biggest IPO in the country in seven years, raising NZ$342 million and valuing the company at close to NZ$450 million.

NZX, in its annual report, attributed the increase in the number of first-time listers last year to some changes that it carried out including reducing the complexity and costs of IPO applications.

This year, New Zealand’s IPO pipeline is not looking as rosy as last year with no major rumors of a potential listing.

Globally, the lingering pandemic and geopolitical shocks are expected to weigh on investor appetite for new listings, according to PwC’s 2022 outlook. However, the accounting firm noted that "optimism remains high that vaccines and other mitigation strategies can prevent widespread lockdowns, keeping equity markets steady and maintaining the environment many prospective companies seek when going public.”

Higher volatility looms for 2022

Investors will have to buckle up for a wild ride this year as markets emerge from post-pandemic recovery and as central banks tighten their monetary policies in response to higher inflation. At home, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand expects the official cash rate to climb 2.5% in the next 12 months before peaking at 3.25% at 2023-end.

Best stocks for NZX’s growth

Despite market challenges, the NZX is poised to benefit from the strong performance of some high-performing stocks with stellar balance sheets, high profitability, and strong free cash flow generation.

SKY Network Television (NZE:SKT) is among the best performers on the NZX. The stock bounced strongly in the first quarter of 2022, surging 56% over the past year as of Wednesday. The broadcast company recorded better-than-expected earnings in the six months ended Dec. 31, driven by strong customer growth after the company offered promotions during COVID-19 lockdowns.

Steel Tube (NZSE:STU) is another growth driver for the NZX as the company cashed in on higher steel prices despite supply chain pressures, with its recent half-year profit tripling.

EBOS Group (NZE:EBO), whose shares surged to an all-time high in January, is also off to a good year as the healthcare company posted another record first half recently owing to its diversified portfolio of healthcare and animal care products.

The NZX may also see a boost from other high-performing stocks including fuel distributor Z Energy (NZE:ZEL), logistics firm Mainfreight (NZE:MFT), utilities firm Contact Energy (NZE:CEN) and renewable energy company Infratil (NZE:IFT).

Facebook’s transition into Meta Platforms (NASDAQ:FB) and Mark Zuckerberg’s big push into the metaverse — the concept of a shared 3D virtual platform where people can socialize, work, and play — spurred a sector-wide move by tech companies to branch out into other areas like gaming.

The burgeoning gaming industry has transformed into a $198.4 billion sector in 2021, far exceeding the combined market size of the box office and the music industry, according to market research firm Mordor Intelligence.

Meta and VR gaming

Even before Meta announced its push into the metaverse in October 2021, the social media behemoth has built a presence in the gaming market with its acquisition of virtual reality company Oculus in 2014. Meta’s foray into the metaverse would make its Oculus VR headsets more appealing to the market amid strong competition against other VR headsets in the market like HTC’s (TPE:2498) HTC Vive and Sony’s (NYSE:SONY) PlayStation VR.

A sharper focus on gaming would encourage Facebook to double down on its investments in the gaming sector far beyond hardware and building a metaverse. The company, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, could soon build an army of tech talents that specialize in gaming.

Meta gobbles up gaming studios

In the months before it rebranded into Meta, Facebook went on an acquisition spree buying small gaming studios. Among its most recent acquisitions in the gaming space are studios Ready at Dawn, Unit 2 Games, VR firm BigBox VR, Downpour Interactive and Sanzaru Games.

However, Meta has yet to spend billions of dollars on a gaming company since its acquisition of Oculus in 2014 for $2 billion, raising the prospect of a potential acquisition of a larger gaming studio similar to recent moves by Sony, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Grand Theft Auto publisher Take-Two Interactive (NASDAQ:TTWO).

Multi-billion gaming deals

Three multi-billion dollar gaming deals welcomed the year in January, starting with Take-Two’s plans to buy mobile video game company Zynga for $12.7 billion, which was thought to be the gaming industry’s biggest acquisition on record until Microsoft announced that it is buying Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ:ATVI), the studio behind the Warcraft, Diablo, Overwatch and Call of Duty franchises, for $68.7 billion in cash.

Microsoft said the deal would make it the world’s third-largest gaming company in terms of revenue behind Tencent (HKG:0700) and Sony. Two weeks later, Sony said it is buying Bungie, the video game developer behind the Destiny and Halo franchises, for $3.6 billion.

Which gaming studio is Facebook eyeing?

With Meta’s intentions to promote the metaverse concept, industry watchers are now waiting for the company’s next big move. Meta will likely look to gobble up a gaming studio with a massive presence in the market such as France’s Ubisoft (OTCMKTS:UBSFY), the developer behind Assassin's Creed and Prince of Persia. Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot last month hinted that it is open to offers from companies.

Roblox (NYSE:RBLX), Playtika Holding (NASDAQ:PLTK) and Super League Gaming (NASDAQ:SLGG) are also likely targets if Meta chooses to snap up the bargains on these companies after their shares tumbled to near record lows recently.

In June 2021, Meta bought Unit 2 Games, the studio behind Roblox-like gaming platform Crayta.

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