There was no evidence this week to support claims that Japanese investors were pulling money out of the U.S. bond market because of fears of a continued decline in the value of the dollar, a number of financial analysts said yesterday.
The bond market was battered for three days in a row this week before closing yesterday with a moderate gain. Some observers had attributed the sharp drop to selling by Japanese, whose purchases have been a significant factor in the market in recent years.
"As far as we can tell, there is no evidence of significant Japanese selling," said Charles Lieberman, director of financial markets research for Manufacturers Hanover Bank & Trust Co. "Maybe they have reduced their purchases a bit, but that is harder to tell."
An economist with a major New York government securities dealer, who said there has been a slowdown lately in buying by investors who may hold bonds for only a short time before selling them again, expects even those purchases to pick up again soon. A new buying opportunity will come within the next two weeks when a new round of long-term Treasury securities will be issued, he said.
Lieberman and other analysts suggested that the bond market's decline this week was the result of "a confluence of several factors." Those factors, taken together, produced a quick drop in bond prices while increasing yields.
Lieberman said the most significant factor was probably the very strength of the bond market before this week. "Investors were sitting on massive capital gains out there, and some of them decided to reduce their exposure" to potential loss of some of those paper gains if long-term interest rates began to rise, he said. As a result, they began to sell bonds to realize the gains.
Another likely factor has been the growing sense that oil prices may be stabilizing after their sharp decline so far this year, Lieberman said. The drop in the value of the dollar, and the prospect that it may continue, was just another element, he said.
William C. Melton, a senior economist at Investors Diversified Services in Minneapolis, said that the prospect of a lower dollar compared to the Japanese yen was a worry more for short-term bond traders than for long-term investors such as Japanese insurance companies and pension funds.
One rumor that helped spark this week's decline in bond prices was a report, later denied, that Chrysler Corp. Chairman Lee Iacocca had been told by Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III that the United States would like to see the dollar fall until it was worth only 150 yen.
After reaching about 166 to a dollar earlier in the week, the yen closed yesterday at 167.4.
But the impact on the Japanese economy from the rising yen is spreading rapidly as export orders are lost and more foreign goods are imported. The Japanese central bank has begun to intervene in currency markets to support the dollar, and government officials increasingly are saying the yen should not be permitted to rise much more. Satoshi Sumita of the Bank of Japan hinted this week that such intervention would continue as needed.
This intervention indicates that any decline in the dollar is apt to occur more slowly in the future, if at all, analysts said. In any event, if Baker or other U.S. government officials do think that a rate of 150 yen to the dollar would be an appropriate rate -- they deny having any target for the dollar's value -- that would imply only another 12 percent drop.
With the possibility of an exchange-rate loss no greater than that, and perhaps considerably smaller, the analysts said they expect a continued inflow of Japanese money.
"People tend to ignore that Japan is running a tremendous trade surplus and that they have a gigantic savings rate" that gives them a great deal of capital to invest in Japan and elsewhere, Melton said.
The economist at the New York government securities house estimated that Japan's surplus in all its current international transactions will hit $80 billion this year, up from about $50 billion in 1985. In other words, the Japanese will have 60 percent more money to invest abroad in 1986 than they did last year.
"For long-term Japanese investors, a cheaper dollar is great," the economist said. "When it looks like the dollar has bottomed, they will come in with both feet."