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A senior Japanese finance ministry official on Monday warned against investors pushing up the yen rapidly, saying that authorities would watch market moves with a greater sense of urgency amid the global spread of the coronavirus.

The spread of the epidemic has prompted heavy selling of riskier assets by investors and a scramble into assets such as the yen which are perceived to be safer havens during time of financial distress.

Japanese policymakers tend to talk down rises in the currency, fearing that sharp appreciation would hurt competitiveness of the country’s goods overseas and further damage the export-led economy, which is teetering on the edge of recession.

“Nervous moves are seen” in the currency market, the official told reporters, after the yen broke JPY= through 104 per dollar and rose as high as 103.52 per dollar.

He added that he would consider whether to hold a meeting with officials from the Bank of Japan and the financial watchdog to discuss financial markets.

The number of people infected with the coronavirus topped 107,000 across the world as the outbreak reached more countries and caused more economic disruption.

Japan last intervened in foreign exchange markets in 2011 to stem yen gains in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster triggered by large earthquakes and tsunami. Tokyo has stayed out of the market since then.

Japanese officials say they stick to an agreement of Group of Seven and Group of 20 economies that excess volatility and disorderly market moves damage the economy, a tacit agreement they interpret as allowing action against sharp market swings.

Reuters | TOKYO

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