Bucking The Yen

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Take this important quiz of your financial acumen.

If you had some spare cash to invest, where would you put it - in something Japanese or something American?

Now if right away you started conjuring pictures of yourself driving a Lexus as opposed to a Ford, you're either related to me by marriage or you've got the wrong idea.

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

Good stuff. Bad investment.

Here's a helpful clue.

Which would you rather do, sink some cents into the Japanese economy, where the news is consistently bad and the talk concerns whether it will tank, not when it will recover?

Or would you rather dunk your dollars in America: land of the spree, home of the economy that won't let up, where every man, woman, and baby boomer has a constitutional right to arugula.

This is the land of (roll that national anthem) The Budget Surplus.

Well, duh.

If you can't answer the question, you must drive a Yugo (or worse, a Renault) until you see the light.

Of course. You'd pick Uncle Sam.

Congratulations, you are now qualified to trade currencies.

Because you now understand what the TV news anchor means when he says "The dollar strengthened against the Japanese yen."

See that chart on Page B2? A buck on Friday bought about 139 yen, compared with 133 yen early in May.

That's an improvement, like buying your boxers at Costco instead of Saks.

But now that you're such a fancy-schmancy Wall-Street trader and can afford to scrounge for skivvies at Saks, here's a trick question.

Would you put your dollars in the American economy or: Japan, Indonesia, Thailand, Hong Kong, China, South Korea, Malaysia, or Russia?

America, obviously (Miss it again? Bummer. You must now wear winter whites in summer.), but the tricky part, Ms. Hotshot, is that you feel uneasy about where in America.

The problem is the length of the list. Too many world economies fall into the "crumbled or crumbling" category.

Russia, last week, succumbed to the financial distress that stains Asia. And there is talk that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) may be asked for a bailout package for Russia - a sure sign its government may soon change. (The IMF bailed out Thailand - new government; South Korea - new government; Indonesia - so long Suharto.)

So, with government's changing and economies sinking, where should you put those dollars?

This is actually more a stock-market than a currency query. And it goes to the idea that with so much global turmoil, the US stock market is beginning to act like it has more reasons to grow cautious than exuberant.

So if you think you see a buying opportunity in the fact that the Dow industrial average declined 160 points last month, this might be the week to wait, watch, and stay on the sidelines.

And since you're such an expert on currencies, you noticed that while stocks were struggling last week, the best port in a storm, US Treasury bonds, gained a lot of strength.

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