November 18, 2014(Mainichi Japan)
Editorial: GDP preliminary figures show 'Abenomics' has reached its limit
Preliminary figures released on Nov. 17 show Japan's gross domestic product (GDP) for the July-September quarter declined at an annualized rate of 1.6 percent from the previous quarter, falling for two consecutive quarters. ７〜９月期の実質国内総生産（ＧＤＰ）の速報値は、年率で前期比１・６％減で、２四半期連続の減少だった。
Consumer spending has not recovered sufficiently from a sharp drop following the consumption tax increase in April 2014 while capital investment remains sluggish.
Since it has become clear that Japan's domestic demand is slumping, the possibility cannot be ruled out that the economy has slowed down and even slipped into a recessionary phase.
The latest GDP reflects problems involving "Abenomics," the economic policy mix promoted by the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. It is essential to thoroughly analyze the cause of the economic slump and its causes in an effort to ascertain problems with this policy.
The contraction of GDP is attributable primarily to a long delay in the recovery of consumer spending. Consumer spending fell 5 percent in the April-June period from the previous quarter, showing a rebound from last-minute demand before the tax hike. The figure only rose 0.4 percent in the July-September period. Pricey goods, such as automobiles and electric appliances, were not selling well over the last quarter.
The government and the Bank of Japan (BOJ) have set an inflation target of 2 percent a year in a bid to overcome prolonged deflation. The value of the yen has declined sharply as a result of the central bank's ultra-easy money policy, which is regarded as the "first arrow" of Abenomics, as a result of which the prices of imported goods, particularly foodstuffs, have increased. Although consumer prices have risen, they were caused merely by increases in the prices of raw materials. This problem underlies sluggish consumer spending.
Corporate performances, mainly those of export-oriented businesses, have recovered, causing employees' salaries and bonuses to increase. However, since these wage increases are not enough to make up for rises in commodity prices and the consumption tax raise, workers' real earnings have rather decreased. Such being the case, consumers have held their purse strings tight.
The value of the yen has further fallen as a result of the BOJ additionally relaxing its monetary grip at the end of October. As a result, the prices of spaghetti, instant noodles and frozen foods as well as other foodstuffs will rise toward the end of this year, raising fears that the slump in consumer spending will be prolonged.
When the consumption tax was raised from 5 percent to 8 percent this past April, the government stopped short of introducing lower tax rates for daily necessities such as foodstuffs and failed to implement effective policy measures to financially support consumers, particularly low-income earners, which is responsible for the recent slump in consumer spending.
The Abe administration did not predict that corporate investment in factories and equipment would fall for two consecutive quarters and still remains sluggish.
Under Abenomics, the government places top priority on boosting corporate profits. The government explained to the public that recovery in companies' business performances would increase capital investment and wages, which would in turn put the economy on a track of full-scale recovery.
Japan's exports have not grown despite the declining value of the yen, which is supposed to be beneficial to exporters. This is attributable largely to a decline in the international competitiveness of Japanese manufactured goods and Japanese manufacturers' shift of their factories overseas in efforts to reduce expenses. As a result, manufacturers' output has failed to increase, preventing them from increasing their investment in factories and equipment.
The government and the BOJ have drawn up a scenario in which a rise in commodity prices would encourage companies to increase their capital investment in anticipation of future inflation. However, this scenario has not come true because companies are hesitant to increase their capital investment in Japan whose population is decreasing.
Listed companies' performances are relatively brisk on the whole. Such companies' mid-term accounts that ended in September show that their sales figures rose about 5 percent from the corresponding period of last year and their pretax profits increased roughly 10 percent from a year earlier. Their sales figures and profits have returned to levels seen shortly before the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008.
However, most of these companies enjoying good performances are in export-oriented industries, such as the automobile, electronics and machinery sectors. In contrast, paper manufacturers and oil wholesalers suffered sharp falls in their profits because of the declining value of the yen.
Non-manufacturers including wholesalers and retailers have been adversely affected by a sharp fall in domestic demand.
It has long been pointed out that the gap between large companies and small and medium-sized businesses has widened, but the gap between major enterprises is also expanding.
Under a growth strategy, which is regarded as the third arrow of Abenomics, the government is set to significantly slash corporate taxes and carry out dramatic deregulation in specially designated zones.
Prime Minister Abe regards such specially designated zones for deregulation as "drills that break bedrock regulations," and is emphasizing that the government will concentrate funds, human resources and companies in these zones to play a leading role in revitalizing the economy.
Despite his enthusiasm, the government has failed to map out specific measures that would encourage businesses to invest in such zones. As such, expectations the public has placed on such special zones have waned.
The use of additional taxpayers' money to implement economic stimulus measures, which is the second arrow of Abenomics, has not produced the intended results.
The Abe government implemented a 5.5-trillion-yen supplementary budget for fiscal 2013 to offset the impact caused by the consumption tax increase in April this year. Some 1 trillion yen was allocated from the extra budget for public works projects, which the government claimed would be effective in boosting the economy.
However, serious doubts remain as to whether these projects have helped prop up the economy amid a shortage of workers and sharp rises in the prices of construction materials.
The Abe administration is set to dissolve the House of Representatives to call a snap general election by the end of this year to ask voters if they support the government.
However, questions have been raised even from within the ruling coalition as to whether it is the right time to call a general election.
If the lower house is to be dissolved for a general election, it would delay the compilation of the fiscal 2015 state budget by nearly a month.
The government claims that it will put priority on implementing a supplementary budget for the current fiscal year. 政府は今年度補正予算を先行するというが、
However, rather than implementing an extra budget in a hasty bid to boost the economy, the government should scrutinize problems involving its economic policy.
The government should then gauge the impact of rises in commodity prices on consumers and shift its policy into one aimed at boosting consumer spending while paying close attention to low income earners and non-regular workers. そして、物価高で賃金が目減りしている影響の大きさをはかり、低所得層や非正規労働者に目配りして消費を喚起する政策に軸足を移すべきではないか。
The time is ripe for the government to compile a fiscal 2015 budget while working out effective measures to ensure economic recovery.
Prime Minister Abe is set to postpone another consumption tax increase from 8 percent to 10 percent scheduled for October 2015.
However, it remains unchanged that a tax hike is inevitable to prevent Japan from passing on its debts to future generations and to establish a sustainable social security system.
毎日新聞 2014年11月18日 東京朝刊