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Yen could surge if Trump wins debate

Yen
Kazuhiro Nogi | AFP | Getty Images

Japan may be adding DonaldTrump to its laundry list of challenges.

Some currency strategists expect the Japanese yen to gain ground against the dollar if the Republican candidate comes out ahead as the winner of tonight's presidential debate.

"Markets believe that a resurgent Trump should be associated with greater market uncertainty," said Thierry Wizman, interest rates and FX strategist at Macquarie Group.

"I think the yen will perform well if Trump looks more likely to win in November," said Jane Foley, FX analyst at Rabobank.

Japanese yen has been a favored go-to safe haven trade as global uncertainty rises. Already this year the yen is one of the best-performing global currencies in 2016, up 17 percent. However a stronger yen is not good for Japan's economy, which is reliant on exports and is in the midst of trying to kick-start growth.

"I absolutely think that at this point anything that makes it look like Trump could win will put upward pressure on the yen — those safe haven flows that we've seen for more than a year now will only intensify, at least through the election," said Tobias Harris, Japan Research at Teneo Intelligence.

Strategists caution though that larger forces like the Bank of Japan and an interest rate hike in the U.S. have been playing a more decisive role in moving the Japanese currency and could continue to do so.

Macquarie's currency team says in the longer term, the yen should weaken against the dollar, but they wouldn't be surprised if the yen goes higher in the short term — potentially testing 100 in the next few sessions.

"Certainly we have a feeling that large Japanese institutions and pension funds are going to dump dollars if Trump is seen to win, because it is hard for foreigners to understand the implications," added Wizman.

North American Head of FX Strategy's Mark McCormick at TD Securities is joining the chorus of experts seeing the yen moving higher. "The market is still testing the BoJ about the credibility of the new policy, particularly as it was not 'new' easing. Moreover, with the Fed on hold for most of this quarter, the U.S. rates side of the equation is unlikely to push USDJPY higher in the interim. That leaves political risks (and risk appetite, more generally) as a key driver for USDJPY," said McCormick.

The Lindsey Group's Peter Boockvar is looking at the currency pair from the perspective of the U.S. dollar, which is widely expected to fluctuate if Trump is the victor of the debate.

"We may get dollar strength as Trump has been encouraging a hike in rates," said Boockvar.

But other market pros are unwilling to bet on the yen and the implications of a Trump win.

"I find calling the JPY [Japanese yen] therefore hard to do. Personally, I think the strength we have seen in the yen this year is one of the things that I would have been least likely to predict going into 2016. The BoJ wants it and needs [the currency] lower!" said Matthew Beesley, head of global equities at Henderson Equities.