TOKYO (AP) — The dollar soared above 100 yen for the first time in more than four years Friday, driven by improved U.S. economic figures and Tokyo's aggressive credit-easing that aims to revive Japan's sluggish economy.
The U.S. dollar rose as high as 101.18 yen, the first time since April 2009 that the greenback has traded above 100 yen. The move lifted Japanese stocks to their highest level in more than five years.
The weaker yen is a boon to Japan's major auto and electronics exporters. The government said the yen's fall signaled that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's policy mix of increased public spending and aggressive monetary easing, dubbed "Abenomics," was proving successful. Kick-starting the economy has been Abe's top priority since he took office late last year.
"With Abenomics, we hope that the Japanese economy will grow and can contribute to the global economy," said Yoshihide Suga, the chief Cabinet spokesman. "It's better that stocks are high than low. We believe this is a sign that our policies are progressing well."
Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average was up 3.1 percent in afternoon trading at 14,629.80, the highest since January 2008.
Japan's monetary easing, and expectations it will help reverse persistent deflation, have helped drive the value of the yen down by more than 20 percent against the dollar since October, when it was trading at around 78 yen.
The yen's sustained fall has riled some of Japan's trading partners but generally won support from leaders of other big economies eager to see the world's third-biggest economy recover from two decades of stagnation. Abe has pushed both fiscal and monetary stimulus strategies to help Japan end a long bout of deflation and support domestic demand.
Japanese officials have fought accusations that Tokyo may be manipulating its currency to give its exporters a boost, and so far international financial institutions generally have backed Abe's approach.
"The accommodative plan of the Bank of Japan is quite ambitious," Naoyuki Shinohara, deputy director of the International Monetary Fund, told reporters in Tokyo. "The easy monetary policy will cause the currency to depreciate. That is axiomatic," he said.
Optimism about the U.S. economy also lifted the dollar after several positive indicators were released. The Labor Department said Thursday that unemployment claims fell to the lowest level in more than five years. And last week, figures showed that the U.S. economy had added 165,000 jobs in April, lowering the unemployment rate fell to 7.5 percent.
"Worries began to grow that U.S. economy wasn't doing so well, but in May the figures improved. So with concerns about the U.S. easing, the dollar is rising," said Takuya Kanda, a currency analyst at Gaitame.com Research Institute in Tokyo.
"If U.S. economy improves, and the Bank of Japan's aggressive easing continues ... that will lead to further dollar strength and yen weakness," said Kanda, who predicts the dollar will rise to 110 yen this year.
A weaker yen helps Japan's key exporters by boosting overseas earnings when repatriated and by making goods produced within Japan for export more affordable in markets abroad. However, it raises costs in yen terms of the imported crude oil and natural gas that resource-scarce Japan must rely on to keep its industries humming and power its cities.
The central bank, under its new governor Haruhiko Kuroda, has vowed to double the monetary base through purchases of government bonds to meet a 2 percent inflation target within the next two years.
By joining the U.S. Federal Reserve and other major central banks in flooding the economy with cash, the Bank of Japan hopes to get corporations and consumers to begin spending more and end a long malaise.
But Abenomics faces risks, too, including the impact of increased public spending on Japan's already enormous national debt and whether higher inflation will also push up interest rates, raising borrowing costs.
"I think Abenomics is being evaluated well so far," Kanda said. "But people will be watching closely how his policies will unfold and impact the broader economy."
Shinohara, the IMF official, said he believed Japan's financial markets would adjust after a period of volatility brought on by its massive monetary easing, but he expressed concern over the country's burgeoning public debt, which is more than twice the size of its economy and double the average for other industrial economies.
"The IMF's mission is to watch for risk factors, and the fiscal stimulus is of concern because it must be accompanied by a credible plan for fiscal consolidation."
On her first night at home in a decade, relatives of freed kidnapping victim Gina DeJesus huddled around her, sleeping on inflatable mattresses in their living room so the young woman would not have to sleep in an upstairs bedroom similar to the one where she spent much of her captivity, her mother told ABC News in an exclusive interview with David Muir.
DeJesus, 23, was reunited with her family Wednesday after nearly 10 years spent as the alleged prisoner of Ariel Castro, a man her mother knew for years.
For years after DeJesus' abduction, Castro, who grew up in the same community as the young woman's mother, Nancy Ruiz, would offer the family his support.
As recently as last year, Castro, 52, asked Ruiz, "How are you doing?" never indicating he was allegedly keeping her daughter a captive in his Cleveland home just miles from where she lived.
Ruiz said DeJesus told her that she and two other women, Amanda Berry, 27, and Michelle Knight, 30, were kept chained in the basement of the basement. Later on, they were allowed upstairs and kept in two separate bedrooms for much of the time.
DeJesus and Knight were often kept in one bedroom. Berry and her daughter, 6, whom she gave birth to while in captivity, were held in a second room, Ruiz said.
The young women were warned there was an alarm system and that it would go off if they tried to escape, Ruiz added.
The women were freed on Monday, when Berry screamed for help from behind a locked door, alerting neighbors who helped kick down the door and called police.
Ruiz said Castro would take Berry's daughters on outings to the park and to church, though the women were never permitted to leave the property themselves.
Berry's litte girl was never told the real names of the other women in the house because of fears she might reveal those names in public and get Castro in trouble, Ruiz said.
Castro would bring the women food, which they would cook. Sometimes he would bring them McDonald's food.
He bought the young women clothes from a local store, Ruiz said, and DeJesus would use the fabric from the clothes to make new outfits, once changing a skirt into a pair of capri pants.
Castro was arraigned today in an Ohio court on charges of kidnapping and rape. Bond was set at $8 million. He did not enter a plea.
Determined not to let the statute of limitations keep them from prosecuting a serial rapist, St. Clair County authorities have charged a suspect identified only by his DNA profile with a 2005 assault in East St. Louis.
The profile is linked to four other sexual assault cases between 1997 and 2008.
Prosecutors say they to the action in order to file charges before the 10 year statute of limitations runs out.
Illinois State Police Lt. Dave Wasmuth says he believes the serial rapist will eventually be arrested. "We're just waiting for his DNA to be taken, submitted to the DNA index, and a match will occur, Lt. Wasmuth said. "And then the warrant would be amended and actually put that person's name on the warrant."
St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly says the victim, who no longer lives in the St. Louis area, is "happy" that authorities are pursing a conviction so aggressively.
This is the first time St. Clair County prosecutors have filed charges against a suspect identified only by a DNA profile, but similar legal actions have been taken elsewhere in Illinois.
Bail for the unnamed suspect has already been set at $750,000.