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Japanese Officials Move To Halt Fall of US Dollar

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JAPAN'S government and central bank took steps yesterday to help stop the fall in the dollar's value, but some analysts here say the Japanese have already done what they can.

In Tokyo, as in other financial capitals, economists and traders awaited similar action by other governments and wondered why it hadn't happened. ``That's the $64,000 question everybody is asking,'' says Brian Martin, a Citibank economist in London.

In New York, traders were standing by yesterday to see if the United States would intervene and to hear what Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan would say in testimony to the House Budget Committee.

The dollar broke the ``parity level'' - where one yen equals one cent - in New York Tuesday when it sold briefly for less than 100 yen. The event was another milestone in the dollar's steady decline; in January 1992, it took 125 yen to buy $1.

Prime Minister Tsutomu Hata met yesterday with key economic advisers and promised to speed up deregulation measures aimed at making Japan's markets more open to international products. Tokyo has recently made some concessions in negotiations with the US over market access; the US this week applauded Tokyo's review of economic laws and regulations.

Economists who see the strong yen as a function of Japan's $130 billion annual trade surplus - because Japanese traders must turn dollars and other currencies they earn abroad into yen to bring profits home - say deregulation will ultimately ease the yen's value.

The Japanese central bank has frequently intervened in currency markets to buy dollars in exchange for yen, spending some $3 billion in May to boost the dollar. Currency traders estimated that the Bank of Japan spent $500 million for this purpose yesterday morning.

Japan's finance minister, Hirohisa Fujii, told reporters that he had urged his counterparts in other leading industrialized countries to come to the dollar's aid. The lack of intervention by US and European central banks has grown noticeable in recent days.

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