Brighter mood among Japan's manufacturers

Lexus vehicles on an assembly line at the Miyata Plant in Miyawaka, Fukuoka Prefecture. Auto and machinery makers' sentiment brightened in the tankan survey, which was taken days after the US presidential election last month, suggesting that sharp ye
Lexus vehicles on an assembly line at the Miyata Plant in Miyawaka, Fukuoka Prefecture. Auto and machinery makers' sentiment brightened in the tankan survey, which was taken days after the US presidential election last month, suggesting that sharp yen falls triggered by Mr Trump's victory built up hopes for higher earnings.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Lower yen and pickup in growth abroad lift sentiment to one-year high, BOJ survey shows

TOKYO • A closely watched central bank survey showed that big Japanese manufacturers' sentiment improved for the first time in six quarters to hit a one-year high, as falls in the yen and a pickup in overseas growth brightened Japan's economic prospects.

The Bank of Japan "tankan" survey published yesterday found companies also maintained their upbeat spending plans, reinforcing market expectations that the central bank will hold off on expanding monetary stimulus in the coming months.

Service-sector confidence, however, was unchanged from three months ago as bad weather hurt private consumption, the survey showed, underscoring the fragile and patchy nature of recovery in the world's third largest economy.

The headline index measuring big manufacturers' business sentiment rose to plus 10 from plus six three months ago, the tankan survey showed, matching a median market forecast and hitting the highest level since December 2015.

"Manufacturing sentiment is doing well, reflecting a recovery in global trade," said Mr Hidenobu Tokuda, senior economist a Mizuho Research Institute. "I think the economy will continue to grow due to exports and public works spending. The chance of additional monetary easing has receded."

The BOJ is likely to keep monetary policy steady and give a more upbeat view of the economy at next week's rate review, reflecting brighter prospects for global trade, sources have told Reuters.

  • 5.5%

    Planned increase in capital expenditure by big firms for the current fiscal year to March next year.

Auto and machinery makers' sentiment brightened in the survey, which was taken days after the US election last month, suggesting that sharp yen falls triggered by Mr Donald Trump's election as president built up hopes for higher earnings.

The survey found that big firms plan to increase capital expenditure by 5.5 per cent for the current fiscal year to March 2017, slightly below projections made three months ago, but still in line with downward revisions that tend to occur at year end, analysts say.

"Capital spending held firm. Taken together, this tankan confirmed a gradual economic recovery, which backs up the BOJ's upbeat view," said Mr Takeshi Minami, chief economist at Norinchukin Research Institute. "It should be taken as another factor for the central bank to stand pat on policy for the time being."

An index measuring corporate price-setting behaviour improved slightly, a sign that more companies were raising the prices of their goods to pass on higher raw material costs to consumers.

Despite more than three years of aggressive money printing by the BOJ, Japan's economy has failed to emerge sustainably from the doldrums as soft global demand and slow wage growth weigh on exports and private consumption.

The tankan showed big non- manufacturers' mood was flat from three months ago at plus 18, as sentiment soured among restaurants, retailers and hotels hurt by soft consumption. Big manufacturers and non-manufacturers expect business conditions to worsen slightly in the coming three months, suggesting that companies remain cautious on whether positive market trends will continue.

But recent data offer signs of hope. Japanese firms' order books expanded last month on robust Asian demand, and consumption edged back up after slumping as bad weather kept shoppers at home.

Big manufacturers based their profit estimates on an assumed average US dollar/yen rate of 104.90 for the current fiscal year. That is a stronger yen estimate than current levels around 115 yen, suggesting that corporate profits may be revised up sharply if the current weak- yen trend continues, analysts say.

The tankan also showed labour shortages were intensifying. An index measuring small firms' staffing conditions hit levels unmatched since 1992, when the economy was booming from an asset-inflation bubble.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 15, 2016, with the headline 'Brighter mood among Japan's manufacturers'. Print Edition | Subscribe