Japan business confidence rebounds as yen slides

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TOKYO: Confidence among some of Japan’s biggest firms has rebounded for the first time in over a year, a key central bank survey showed Wednesday, as a sliding yen boosts profit hopes.

The Bank of Japan’s Tankan report—a quarterly survey of more than 10,000 companies that is the broadest indicator of how Japan Inc. is faring—showed a reading of 10 among major manufacturers, rising from six in its previous report.

A positive figure means companies are on average optimistic.

The October-December reading marked the first on-quarter improvement since last year’s April-June report.


Confidence among small- and mid-sized firms also strengthened in the latest reading, while companies also said they planned to boost capital spending, although the pace was weak.

The report offered some good news for Japan’s sputtering economic recovery.

Last week, the government downgraded its estimate for third-quarter growth to 0.3 percent, from an initial 0.5 percent reading.

The BoJ’s report is likely to take some pressure off the central bank to launch more easing measures after its last meeting of the year next week.

Still, firms expect the next three months to be less rosy.

“This suggests companies remained cautious, perhaps reflecting uncertainty around the outlook for policy and exchange rates under the new US administration, among other factors,” Barclays said in a research note.

“If the yen remains weak, however, there could still be some upside.”

Wednesday’s report for the final quarter of the year includes company polling following Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election.

The dollar has soared since the surprise November election result, on hopes for a big government spending package and higher interest rates under the Trump administration.

‘Big break’

The yen is now trading at multi-month lows against the greenback, which makes Japanese products cheaper abroad and inflates the value of repatriated profits.

“It seems that Japanese manufacturers are getting a big break from the recent yen depreciation,” said Takuji Okubo, chief economist at Japan Macro Advisors.

“But do they have a good reason to think it the yen’s slide will continue? I don’t think so. It all depends on how Trump executes his economic policy.”

Japan’s economy contracted in the last three months of 2015, before bouncing back this year, although the recovery has been wobbly.

Officials are under intense pressure to deliver a boost to growth as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s spend-for-growth policies appear to falter.

He launched his “Abenomics” growth blitz in early 2013 —a mix of massive monetary easing, government spending and red-tape slashing.

But promised reforms to the highly regulated economy have been slow in coming.

Tokyo in July announced a whopping 28-trillion-yen ($243-billion) package aimed at kickstarting growth, after
Britain’s June vote to quit the European Union sent financial markets into a tailspin and initially sparked a rally of the safe-haven yen. The currency’s downtrend has since been reversed.

The cheaper yen could help shore up Japan’s inflation rate, which remains way below the Bank of Japan’s official 2.0 percent target.

The BoJ last month pushed back the timeline for hitting the target.

It now expects to hit the goal by March 2019—four years later than its original target and the latest in a string of delays.

 

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