Visitors looks at an electronic board showing the Japan's Nikkei average at the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo

Japan’s economy stalls in Q2, casts doubts on gov’t policies

TOKYO: Japan’s economy essentially stalled in the April-June quarter, missing market forecasts and rekindling worries about the government’s faltering bid to stoke a recovery, government data showed Monday.

According to the Cabinet Office, the second quarter growth of the world’s third-largest economy came in less than market expectations for between a 0.4-percent and a 0.7-percent expansion in the recording period, logging an annualized 0.2-percent in real terms.

The minimal growth comes on the heels of a revised 2-percent growth logged in the January-March quarter and highlights the issues the government is having in actualizing economic policies to reverse two decades of deflation and reinvigorate corporate and private spending, against a backdrop of a persistently strong yen, which continues to hamper the nation’s key export sector, as prior and recent stimulus efforts seem to be ineffectual.

The government on Monday pointed to a slowdown in overseas economies, the strength of the yen and slumping private consumption as all contributing to the stagnation.

But sluggish exports have been significantly weighing on the economy, the latest economic data showed, with the Cabinet Office saying exports had retreated 1.5 percent in the reporting quarter, following a 0.1- percent growth in the first three months of the year, underscoring withdrawing overseas demand and the negative impact of the yen’s protracted appreciation.

With consumer spending, a hefty economic component accounting for 60 percent of total gross domestic product, also weighing on the economy, with an uptick of just 0.2 percent in the quarter, the failure of “Abenomics” is very much in the spotlight, with the weaker-than-expected growth data causing economists to question his policies’ effects on deflation, market perception and participation and consumer spending.

In terms of consumer spending, analysts said solid corporate earnings have not translated into increased salaries or pay increases, with employees’ salaries being raised an inappreciable 0.3 percent in the recording quarter from the previous one, meaning that consumers are reluctant to spend.

In addition, the government’s latest data showed that household spending, another key gauge of current and future consumer confidence, had remained largely flat, adding pressure on the government following its recent upper house election pledges to convert its policies into bettering livelihoods and increasing living standards, with the same economic rhetoric largely unchanged since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe retook office three-and-a half-years ago on his “Abenomics” ticket.

Analysts also highlighted the fact that increased corporate profits have not been converted into expenditure, with business spending slipping 0.4 percent in the quarter, as corporations perceive the domestic market as being weak and are reluctant to increase spending or investments, underscoring the fact that Japan’s GDP data has come in negative in five quarters in just three years and painting a bleak picture for short and medium-term capital expenditure.

The latest data will now put more pressure on the Bank of Japan (BOJ) to unroll more stimulus measures following its policy meeting in September, with the government left to continue to grapple with measures to achieve a sustainable growth path against increasingly strong headwinds of rising social security costs, slumping domestic and overseas demand, and public debt at more than twice the size of its economy.

The Finance Ministry said last week that Japan’s central government’s debt as of the end of June had climbed as the government is failing to finance the nation’s mounting demographic problem.

The ministry said the central government’s debt had climbed by 4.10 trillion yen (40.48 billion U.S. dollars) from three months ago, to stand at 1,053.47 trillion yen (10.40 trillion U.S. dollars) as of the end of June.

The mounting debt, at more than 240 percent of the national gross domestic product and the largest in the industrialized world, is partly attributable to costs related to the nation’s rapidly aging population and financing the social security costs involved.

The government earlier this month unrolled a hefty stimulus plan to the tune of 28.1 trillion yen as part of the latest installment of the prime minister’s ailing “Abenomics” economic policy mix, but economists have said it lacks the equivocal allocations and long-term vision necessary to fundamentally kickstart the nation’s flagging economy and keep it on a sustainable growth path.

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