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Japanese crash

February 16th, 2009 · No Comments

Anyone seriously thinking we don’t need radical measures to get us out of the economic slump and that talk about the seriousness of the economic situation is just scaremongering hasn’t paid attention to what’s happening in the world’s second largest economy…

Japan’s GDP Shrinks 12.7%, Most Since 1974 Oil Shock (Update2)
By Jason Clenfield

Feb. 16 (Bloomberg) — Japan’s economy shrank at an annual 12.7 percent pace last quarter, the most since the 1974 oil shock, amid an unprecedented collapse in exports and production.

Gross domestic product fell for a third straight quarter in the three months ended Dec. 31, the Cabinet Office said today in Tokyo. The median estimate of 26 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News was for an 11.6 percent contraction.

Exports plunged a record 13.9 percent from the third quarter as global demand for Corolla cars and Bravia televisions evaporated. Toyota Motor Corp., Sony Corp. and Hitachi Ltd. — all of which are forecasting losses — are firing thousands of workers, heightening the risk a slump in household spending will prolong the recession.

“The economy is in terrible shape and the scary part is that we’re likely to see a similar drop this quarter,” said Seiji Adachi, a senior economist at Deutsche Securities Inc. in Tokyo. “All we can do is wait for overseas demand to pick up.”

The Nikkei 225 Stock Average fell 0.7 percent as of 9:35 a.m. in Tokyo. The yield on 10-year government bonds rose 2 basis points to 1.28 percent.

The world’s second-largest economy shrank 3.3 percent from the third quarter, today’s report showed. That compared with the U.S.’s 1 percent contraction and the euro-zone’s 1.5 percent decline. Economists predicted a 3.1 percent drop.

Without adjusting for inflation, Japan shrank 1.7 percent from the previous quarter, less than the 2.1 percent analysts estimated. The GDP deflator, a broad measure of price changes, rose 0.9 percent, the first increase in a decade.

Triggered by Lehman

Japan has been in a recession since November 2007, according to a government panel that dates the economic cycle. Last quarter was defined by the fallout from the Sept. 15 bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., which set off a credit crisis that erased more than $14 trillion from global equity markets and paralyzed world trade. The meltdown also spurred a 14 percent surge in the yen against the dollar that’s eroded earnings for exporters already struggling with record declines in overseas sales.

The yen traded at 91.61 per dollar compared with 91.76 before the report was published.

Net exports — the difference between exports and imports — accounted for 3 percentage points of the quarterly drop in GDP.

Japan has become more dependent on exports for its growth over the past decade. Overseas shipments make up 16 percent of the economy today compared with about 10 percent in 1999.

‘Very Sensitive’

Basically Japan produces high-end durable goods, which are very, very sensitive to credit conditions,” said Hiroshi Shiraishi, an economist at BNP Paribas in Tokyo. “People normally borrow to buy these things. In that sense, too, Japan was vulnerable.”

Domestic demand, which includes household spending and capital investment, made up 0.3 percentage point of the contraction.

Capital spending fell 5.3 percent, today’s report showed. Manufacturers cut production by a record 11.9 percent in the quarter, indicating they have little need to buy equipment as factories lay idle.

Consumer purchases, which account for more than half of the economy, dropped 0.4 percent, amid the worst round of job cuts in decades.

Little Help

In contrast with the U.S. and China, where governments are moving forward with a combined $1.4 trillion in stimulus spending, policy makers in Japan are providing little help. Parliamentary gridlock has blocked the passage of Prime Minister Taro Aso’s 10 trillion yen ($111 billion) stimulus package, helping his approval rating slide to 14 percent ahead of elections required by September.

The Bank of Japan, which in December cut its key interest rate to 0.1 percent, is trying to get credit flowing by purchasing shares and corporate debt from lenders. It has little means to address what analysts say is the economy’s central problem: a lack of overseas demand.

The repercussions from that demand shock have started to ripple through Japan’s economy as exporters from Toyota to Sony shed workers. The jobless rate surged to 4.4 percent in December from 3.9 percent, the biggest jump in four decades.

The firings intensified in the past month, with Panasonic Corp., Pioneer Corp., Nissan Motor Co. and NEC Corp. announcing a combined 65,000 job cuts. The eliminations may have pushed the recession into a “new phase” in which consumers become more defensive and spend less, according to Martin Schulz, a senior economist at Fujitsu Research Institute in Tokyo.

Sentiment among households, whose spending accounts for more than half of the economy, is close to the lowest level in at least 26 years.

“The best we can expect for this year is to see the collapse stop,” said Kyohei Morita, chief economist at Barclays Capital in Tokyo. For Japan to recover, “we’ll need the U.S. and Chinese economies to take off first.”

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As a side note, note how the Japanese central bank was buying even outright shares and corporate debt. Anything to absorb the bad balance sheets of banks and corporations, infusing liquidity into the system. But if that liquidity is not spend, it’s of little help (this is the infamous Keynesian liquidity trap).

That’s why only a Government stimulus package can offset the severe slack in demand. At least they are guaranteed to actually spend money (unless they waist it on silly tax cuts)..

Tags: Credit Crisis · Public Policy