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Japanese stocks, especially of major exporters, soared and the yen tanked, starting in early February. Yet the spurring effects of monetary easing on Japanese stocks and the depressing influence on the yen didn’t last long. Since mid-March, the currency has resumed its role as a haven from euro-area turmoil. The “risk off” trade is back in favor. Still, I continue to believe that fundamental changes are occurring in Japan that will weaken the yen considerably in future years.
Last year, Japan’s gross government debt was 220 percent of gross domestic product, according to the International Monetary Fund, by far the largest ratio of any Group of Seven country. All governments lend back and forth among official entities so that their gross debt is bigger than the net debt held by non-government investors, and Japan does this more than other developed countries. Still, on a net basis, Japan’s government-debt-to-GDP ratio is rivaled only by Italy’s and leaped to 113 percent in 2011 from 11.5 percent in 1991.
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