We were skeptical when two days ago we reported that Japan was contemplating investing some of the hundreds of billions of pension savings held in its massive, $1+ trillion GPIF pension fund into US infrastructure projects, a story which the GPIF itself quickly denied. However, we were all too clear about the motives behind this proposal trial ballooned by Prime Minister Abe: appease Trump in any way possible during next week's, Feb. 10 meeting between Japan and the US, to avoid being labeled a currency manipulator (which Japan certainly is with a central bank balance sheet roughly the same size as its GDP) so that Japan's QE, the backbone of Abenomics, can continue. If that included make ridiculously impossible promises, so be it.
Which is why we were not surprised to read today that as the latest incarnation of the "Appease Trump" proposal, Japan is putting together a package it says could generate 700,000 U.S. jobs and help create a $450-billion market, to present to U.S. President Donald Trump next week, Reuters reports.
The focus is, once again, on US infrastructure investment only this time the GPIF does not feature among the sources of funds. The five-part package, to be unveiled when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visits Trump on Feb. 10 in Washington, envisage investments in infrastructure projects such as high-speed trains and cybersecurity. Reuters cites sources "who declined to be identified as they were not authorized to speak to the media." Said sources could well be Abe himself, who is leaking random "plans" just to make sure Trump doesn't blow up at Japan again as he did earlier this week when he accused it of devaluing its currency, sending the Yen, and JGB yields, higher.
Reuters adds that investing in overseas infrastructure projects dovetails with a key plank in Abe’s growth strategy, which is to export "high-quality" infrastructure technology. Japan will invest 17 trillion yen ($150 billion) in public and private funds over 10 years, the sources said. It was unclear, however, why Japan would invest in US infrastructure instead of its own, which in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, was revealed to be in dire shape. Among the proposed Japanese investments would be to develop high-speed railways in the northeastern United States, and the states of Texas and California, and renovating subway and train cars.
Some other tidbits: the package also includes cooperation in global infrastructure investment, joint development of robots and artificial intelligence, and cooperation in cybersecurity and space exploration, among others.
What makes this proposal particularly ludicrous is that according to Reuters, the "government may tap its foreign exchange reserves account to fund part of the package." In other words, Japan would use cash out of its own pocket to pay for US projects and creating US jobs.
In any other country, the merest suggestion of such a betrayal of Abe's own people would be met with angry domestic protests and demands he step down, however Japan is... different.
And while Reuters repeats what we previously reported, namely that Japan's government "may also get funding from government-affiliated financial institutions, as well as the Government Pension Investment Fund" this rumor was again denied when GPIF President Norihiro Takahashi said on Thursday there was no truth to reports that the Fund would invest as a part of the government package, adding that the "Fund made its investment decisions to benefit policyholders."
Which is true, especially since the returns on public infrastructure projects tend to be famously negative. It also makes one wonders whose benefit Japan's prime minister is serving by promising Japanese funds to create nearly a million US jobs. Whatever the answer, Americans will gladly take it, as will Japan if it means the BOJ can continue monetizing its debt and kicking the can just a little bit longer.