In 2003 and the first quarter of 2004, Japan carried out a remarkable experiment in monetary policy ? remarkable in the impact it had on the global economy and equally remarkable in that it went almost entirely unnoticed in the financial press. Over those 15 months, monetary authorities in Japan created ¥35 trillion. To put that into perspective, ¥35 trillion is approximately 1% of the world's annual economic output. It is roughly the size of Japan's annual tax revenue base or nearly as large as the loan book of UFJ, one of Japan's four largest banks. ¥35 trillion amounts to the equivalent of $2,500 for every person in Japan and, in fact, would amount to $50 per person if distributed equally among the entire population of the planet. In short, it was money creation on a scale never before attempted during peacetime.
Why did this occur? There is no shortage of yen in Japan. The yield on two year JGBs is 10 basis points. Overnight money is free. Japanese banks have far more deposits than there is demand for loans, which forces them to invest up to a quarter of their deposits in low yielding government bonds. So, what motivated the Bank of Japan to print so much more money when the country is already flooded with excess liquidity?
The Bank of Japan gave the ¥35 trillion to the Japanese Ministry of Finance in exchange for MOF debt with virtually no yield; and the MOF used the money to buy approximately $320 billion from the private sector. The MOF then invested those dollars into US dollar- denominated debt instruments such as government bonds and agency debt in order to earn a return.
The MOF bought more dollars through currency intervention then than during the preceding 10 years combined, and yet the yen rose by 11% over that period. Historically, foreign exchange intervention to control the level of a currency has met with mixed success, at best; and past attempts by the MOF to stop the appreciation of the yen have not always succeeded. They were very considerably less expensive, however. It is also interesting, and perhaps important, to note that the MOF stopped intervening in March 2004 just when the yen was peaking; that the yen depreciated immediately after the intervention stopped; and that when the yen began appreciating again in October 2004, the MOF refrained from further intervention."