Japan to buy Europe bonds to soothe debt crisis

TOKYO: Japan's new finance minister said that Tokyo would buy bonds issued by Europe's permanent bailout fund to help soothe the eurozone's debt problems and stabilise the yen.

Taro Aso told reporters the new government would tap foreign exchange reserves to pay for the bonds, but declined to say how much it planned to buy.

A finance ministry told AFP the bond buying could start as early as Tuesday, when the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) begins selling the paper, adding that Japan "will make a purchasing decision after seeing the terms of the issuance".

Japan, which counts Europe as a major export market, previously purchased billions of dollars in bonds issued by the ESM's predecessor, the European Financial Stability Facility.

"Stabilising Europe's financial crisis will eventually contribute to the stability of currency (prices) including the yen, and so we plan to keep purchasing ESM bonds using foreign reserves," Aso said Tuesday.

Europe's debt crisis has seen four countries ask for bailout cash to help pay their bills, while there were fears that others including Italy and Spain would follow suit as their borrowing costs surged.

However, those concerns have eased since September, when the European Central Bank promised to buy the bonds of struggling nations to keep rates down.

Also Tuesday, Japanese media reported that Tokyo was considering an extra budget worth about $150 billion to boost the limp economy, with about 40 percent of that figure directed toward public works projects.

The yen hit record highs around 75 against the dollar in late 2011, sparking panic among Japanese exporters whose goods are made more expensive by a strong currency.

However, the unit has since weakened and has seen a steep decline in recent weeks as the new government of Shinzo Abe, which took office last month after a landslide election win, vows to press the Bank of Japan for more aggressive monetary easing.

Reports Tuesday quoted Japanese executives expressing concern about the yen's recent tumble, saying the quick decline could pose a danger to the Japanese economy.

The business community, which had pressed officials for months to tame the surging yen, say a further plunge in the currency could shake investor confidence.

A weaker currency also makes fuel imports, which have risen steeply in the wake of Japan shutting down its nuclear plants, more expensive.

In Tokyo forex trading on Tuesday afternoon, the euro was up at 115.00 yen from 114.75 yen before Aso's comments, while the dollar bought 87.66 yen from 87.48 yen in morning deals.

Europe's permanent bailout fund was initially supposed to come online in July but only became operational in October after it was delayed by a challenge at the German Constitutional Court.

- AFP/de

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