G7 frets about yen, Brown sees scope for rate cuts

LONDON/HONG KONG - The Group of Seven warned on Monday the surging yen posed a threat to financial and economic stability, the latest coordinated effort by the world's richest nations to curb the worst financial crisis in 80 years.

By (Reuters)

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Published: Mon 27 Oct 2008, 4:16 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 2:26 PM

Signs that the crisis was continuing to spread were evident across the world with South Korea slashing interest rates, Australian intervening in the currency market, Gulf Arab oil producers urging quicker monetary union, and the International Monetary Fund bailing out Hungary and Ukraine.

With the U.S. Federal Reserve almost certain to slash interest rates later in the week, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown hinted that central bank action may be more widespread.

"Now inflation is actually coming down over the next few months and that will mean that it gives scope to all the monetary authorities, including the Bank of England, round the world to make a decision about interest rates," he told the BBC.

Financial markets continued to react sharply to the combination of financial crisis and global recession.

MSCI's main world stock index was down more than 3 percent, closing in on a 50 percent loss for the year to date. Its emerging market counterpart was down at 4-year lows.

Japan was in focus with a brief G7 statement singling out the yen, fanning speculation of the first Bank of Japan currency intervention in four years.

"We are concerned about the recent excessive volatility in the exchange rate of the yen and its possible adverse implications for economic and financial stability," the group, comprising the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Canada, said.

The yen's rapid 12 percent ascent against the dollar has threatened Japanese exports as the world's second-largest economy lurches towards recession.

The dollar, however, is rising against major currencies, except for the yen, so there was some scepticism about whether any coordinated action on the economy would be forthcoming.

Meanwhile, three of Japan's top lenders -- Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Mizuho Financial Group and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group -- were said by Japan's media to be looking to raise cash to offset share losses.

Prime Minister Taro Aso said after an emergency meeting the government would expand a scheme that allows banks access to public funds and tighten rules on short-selling shares.

Emergency Moves

Elsewhere, South Korea resorted to a record interest rate cut and Australia's central bank intervened to support its currency for a second day as policymakers grappled with the 15-month-old crisis that has shattered investor confidence, and threatens a deep recession.

"Today's bigger-than-usual rate cut is aimed at helping prevent a sharp slowdown in domestic demand and the overall economy," Bank of Korea Governor Lee Seong-tae during his news conference after a 75 basis point cut to 4.25 percent.

Developing nations have also been turning to the International Monetary Fund for help to stave off the worst global financial crisis since the Great Depression in the 1930s.

The IMF said it had reached an agreement with Hungary to get a "substantial financing package" in the next few days that will include funding by the European Union and some individual European governments.

It agreed on a $16.5 billion loan for Ukraine on Sunday.

Emerging markets have been particularly hard hit.

Once high-flying Chinese stocks closed at a 25-month low, with some analysts talking of panic selling.

On Sunday, Chinese central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan warned of danger ahead for the emerging market powerhouse.

"The economy's basic momentum has not changed. But in order to confront the many destabilising and uncertain factors that exist, it is necessary to strengthen our awareness of the dangers, proactively cope with the challenges, and do a solid job of preparing to face potential difficulties," he said.

Helping Hands

The crisis was taking a toll right across the world.

Gulf Arab oil producers said at an emergency meeting on Saturday they had already taken adequate steps to deal with the impact of the global financial crisis but that turmoil on world markets had given new urgency to their plan for monetary union.

Swedish investment bank Carnegie said on Monday it had been granted a 1 billion Swedish crown ($126 million) bridge loan from the Swedish central bank pending implementation of a government guarantee scheme.

Smaller, regional U.S. banks also started seeking help from the U.S. government.

Fifth Third Bancorp, which saw its shares sink Friday on questions about the strength of Ohio banks after rival National City Corp agreed to be taken over, said on Sunday it had applied for a $3.4 billion cash injection.

Separately, Washington Federal Inc, parent of Washington Federal Savings, said it had been selected to get a $200 million cash infusion under the plan.

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