The USD/JPY pair has been trading in its own "coordinate system", prioritizing fundamental factors. For example, the pair was actively rising at the start of the week, despite the decline in the U.S. dollar index. Traders of USD/JPY ignored the general weakening of the US currency and even updated the local high (131.14). We will discuss the reasons for such behavior below, but first of all we should pay attention to the most important fact: the bulls failed to settle above the resistance level of 131.00 (middle line of the indicator Bollinger Bands on the D1 chart). Bulls found it hard to climb above this level, which speaks about how unstable their position is. The scale is still in favor of the yen, even in that isolated "coordinate system", in which the pair has to trade.
Yen at the helm
What is the peculiarity of the pair's behavior?
For so many years, the yen acted as a follower, while the greenback took the lead. The Bank of Japan's monetary policy with Governor Haruhiko Kuroda, who was appointed to his post in 2013, repeated the same mantra month after month - that the central bank is committed to accommodative policy and, if necessary, ready to further ease monetary policy parameters. Everybody got used to this rhetoric and did not react to it, at least in the context of the USD/JPY pair. Nearly all of the BOJ meetings were of a pass-through nature, so they had little effect on the price values.
But everything changed in December, when the BOJ allowed long-term Japanese government bond (JGB) yields to move in a wider range at the end of the last meeting in 2022. This decision was made, firstly, quite unexpectedly, and secondly - ahead of Kuroda's resignation (he will leave his post in April). Therefore, the market interpreted the outcome of the December meeting very unambiguously, coming to the conclusion that the central bank had taken the first step towards the normalization of monetary policy. Since then, the yen has ceased to be a "slave" in the USD/JPY pair: the focus is no longer just on the Federal Reserve's monetary policy prospects, but also on the prospects of a pivot in the Japanese central bank's policy.
The BOJ strikes back
The BOJ obviously did not expect such a violent reaction from the market and such unambiguous, categorical conclusions. That is why Kuroda said back in late December that the central bank was not going to abandon its ultra-loose monetary policy in the near future. But the market ignored his rhetoric.
Earlier this week, the bears had to deal with another blow: the BOJ published the minutes of its December meeting where several Governing Council members stressed that the "the Bank should carefully explain that it needs to continue with monetary easing, that its accommodative policy stance has not been changed,". The bears were then forced to retreat. Bulls took the initiative and hit a new local high on Tuesday, testing the 131.00 level of resistance. But they failed to hold on to their positions: the bears took the initiative as soon as the bullish momentum faded. At the moment, when this article was being written, the pair was already going down to the bottom of the 129th figure, almost 200 points away from the local high (in only 2 days!).
The pair is going down not only because the dollar is "moping" (dollar index is moving to the base of the 101st figure again), but the yen is also strengthening its positions due to "its" own fundamental factors.
Inflation, inflation, inflation
First, inflation in Japan continues to show an uptrend, renewing multi-year records. Overall consumer price inflation accelerated to 4.0% in December. Excluding fresh food and energy, consumer prices climbed 3.0% annually, and the corporate goods price index was up 10.2% y/y. On Friday, January 27, Japan will publish another important inflation indicator, the January Tokyo Consumer Price Index. It is considered a leading indicator for price movements across the country, so certain conclusions can be drawn from the published figures. If it will be in favor of the yen again, the USD/JPY pair may return to the area of 127-128 figures, where it was traded in early January.
Traders of the pair are now acting ahead of the consolidated forecasts. Thus, according to most experts, Tokyo's overall CPI will rise to 4.2%: the last time the figure was at that high was in November 1981. The other components of the report (excluding fresh food prices; excluding food and energy prices) should also show an uptrend.
Judging by the results of the last few days, we can conclude that the yen held its ground and did not let the bulls settle above the resistance level of 131.00. Undoubtedly, the greenback, which is getting weaker all over the market again, has also played its part. But we should also consider that the pair was rising this week while the USD index was falling. Therefore, the pair is bearish also due to the strengthening of the Japanese currency. Further price declines will largely depend on this week's key releases: if US GDP growth data for Q4 and the core PCE index come out in the red, while Tokyo CPI surprises with its greenback, the pressure on the pair will only intensify. The main bearish target is 127.30 (bottom line of the Bollinger Bands indicator on the D1 chart).