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Weaker yen could be boon for SA exporters

The weaker yen could be a boon for SA exporters of commodities such as coal‚ platinum and iron ore‚ as Japanese demand for raw materials expands due to a more competitive yen.
In 2011 Japan exported R34.3 billion worth of goods to SA and imported goods worth R55.6 billion. Bilateral trade last year was likely to have exceeded R100 billion as Japanese exports recovered from the impact of the March 2011 tsunami‚ while SA coal exports have increased substantially as all of Japan's nuclear power stations were closed down for safety checks. In 2010‚ nuclear power stations provided 30% of Japan's electricity.

Trade sources indicated that in January 2013 SA coal exports to Japan were already more than the whole of 2012. This was in part due to weather disruptions at Australian coal terminals in January 2013.

The Japanese Foreign Ministry has put in a substantial effort to promote the Tokyo International Conference on African Development V (TICAD V)‚ which is the major conference between Japan and African countries and will once again be held in Yokohama in June.

TICAD IV‚ which was held in 2008‚ was attended by representatives from 51 African countries‚ including 41 of heads of State and had more than 3‚000 participants.

The yen weakened to its softest level in nearly three years against the US dollar on Wednesday after the Bank of Japan's governor said he would leave before his term ended.

The yen touched 94.06 against the dollar‚ its weakest level since May 2010‚ and is now 22% more competitive than the its value on September 13 2012‚ when the yen touched 77.12 per US dollar.

The yen's weakening came after Bank of Japan (BoJ) Governor Masaaki Shirakawa announced that he planned to leave on March 19‚ about three weeks before the end of his term.

His offer to resign has led to speculation that his successor would be accommodating of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's "Abeconomics"‚ which aims to boost Japanese growth by aggressive fiscal and monetary stimulus.

In January 2013 the Bank of Japan said it would adopt a 2% inflation target and an unlimited asset-purchase scheme‚ that would however only start in 2014.

Yoshinori Tanaka of the National Policy Unit said in December that the need for platinum group metals was likely to increase as more fuel cells that use platinum as a catalyst are installed in cars and homes.

"The aim is to have 1.4-million fuel cells in residences by 2020 from only 10‚000 currently and then grow this to 5.3-million by 2030‚" he said. "In addition‚ the government aims to help with the construction of facilities for fuel-cell vehicles so that they can be marketed from 2015."

Takashi Morimoto‚ manager of the Panasonic Centre in Tokyo‚ said that by using the company's products now on the market or being developed‚ it was possible to reduce residential energy consumption by 65%. Much of the remaining 35% could be eliminated through the use of solar power‚ fuel cells and lithium-ion batteries.

"The great thing about fuel cells is that they produce not only electricity‚ but also hot water‚ which can be used in the bathroom and the kitchen and for under-floor heating‚ so reducing energy consumption from external sources‚" he said.

Platinum refiner Johnson Matthey said in its Platinum 2012 Interim Review‚ that platinum demand in auto catalysts will be supported by Japanese manufacturers as vehicle output improved following the March 2011 tsunami.

The number of vehicles sold in Japan in 2012 rose by 26.1% from 2011‚ when the auto industry was hurt by the quake-tsunami disaster. However domestic sales in December 2012 eased by 3.4% from December 2011‚ partly due to the expiry of government subsidies aimed at bumping up sales of environmentally-friendly cars.

Japan's three biggest vehicle producers - Toyota‚ Nissan and Honda - posted record sales for 2012. The production data confirmed that Toyota recaptured the title of world's biggest car maker from General Motors.

Toyota said sales rose by 22.6% to 9.75 million units in 2012‚ while Nissan saw a 5.8% gain to 4.94 million units‚ and Honda had a 23.3% increase to 3.81 million vehicles.


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