Japan’s economic growth fizzles out in second quarter

Agence France-Presse
Japan’s economic growth fizzles out in second quarter

AFP

(UPDATED) Weak exports and a fall in business spending hurt activity from April to June, aggravating concerns

TOKYO, Japan (UPDATED) – Japan’s economy stalled in the April-June quarter, data showed Monday, August 15, missing market forecasts and rekindling worries about the government’s faltering bid to stoke a recovery.

Growth in the world’s third largest economy was flat at 0.0% on-quarter, falling below economists’ expectations for a modest 0.2% expansion, as weak exports and a fall in business spending dented activity.

On an annualized basis, the economy expanded by a slight 0.2% in the latest period, well off expectations for a 0.7% rise and a 1.9% growth rate seen in the first quarter of the year.

Japanese officials are under growing pressure to deliver as economists increasingly write off Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s years-long bid to cement a lasting recovery, dubbed Abenomics.

“Today’s data are quite disappointing,” said Junko Nishioka, chief economist at Sumitomo Mitsui Banking.

“The situation is becoming tougher and tougher. There is the rally in the yen and worries about Japan’s prospects in overseas markets. And so companies are becoming more pessimistic about making investments.”

Inflation dropped for a 4th straight month in June, delivering a fresh blow to Abe’s war on deflation.

Business confidence has slumped to levels last seen when he swept to power in late 2012 on a ticket to fire up an economy beset by years of falling prices and weak growth.

Tokyo recently announced a whopping 28 trillion yen ($276 billion) package aimed at kickstarting growth, after Britain’s June vote to quit the European Union sent financial markets into a tailspin and sparked a yen rally.

The second quarter drop in business spending comes as the strong yen threatens corporate Japan’s bottom line – aggravating broader concerns about growth.

Investors tend to buy Japan’s currency as a safe bet in times of turmoil or uncertainty.

But it makes its exporters less competitive overseas and hits profits at Japan Inc.

The problem was highlighted recently as many of the county’s best-known firms, including Sony and Toyota, reported lower profits in the 3 months to June.

Spend-for-growth

Abe’s plan – a mix of massive monetary easing, government spending, and red-tape slashing – initially brought the yen down from record highs and set off a stock market rally.

But promises to cut through red tape have been slower, and Abe’s plan to buoy Japan’s once-booming economy have looked increasingly unrealistic.

His spend-for-growth policies have set Japan apart from some of its rich nation counterparts, including Germany which has been reluctant to endorse them, seeing it as an ineffective way to stimulate the economy.

Abe reshuffled his cabinet in early August after easily winning upper house elections, and vowed to speed up his battle with deflation.

The Bank of Japan’s massive monetary easing campaign is a cornerstone of plans to boost prices.

The central bank disappointed markets at its late July meeting when it opted to leave its 80 trillion yen annual bond-buying program unchanged, amid worries that expanding the scheme could spark volatility in Japan’s debt markets.

The BoJ also held off cutting interest rates deeper into negative territory.

Negative rates are meant to encourage lending to people and businesses by effectively charging banks to keep excess reserves in the BoJ’s vaults.

But commercial banks have complained they are eating into their financial results.

Japan’s growth data are likely to heap pressure on the BoJ to act when it meets next month, analysts said.

“Japan’s economy stagnated in the second quarter,” said Marcel Thieliant from research house Capital Economics.

“Adding in the deflationary impact of the stronger yen, underlying inflation should moderate further in coming months, increasing the pressure on the BoJ to provide more monetary easing.” – Rappler.com

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