Japan downgrades Q4 GDP on service sector weakness

Revised gross domestic product data showed Japan expanded an annualised 4.6 per cent in October-December. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japan's economic rebound was softer than initial estimates in the final quarter of last year, revised data showed on Wednesday (March 9), as the pick-up seen in consumer and business spending was weaker than first reported.

The downwardly revised growth is bad news for policymakers tasked with keeping the country's fragile recovery on track as a jump in commodity prices due to the Ukraine crisis and persistent supply disruptions heighten economic uncertainty.

Revised gross domestic product (GDP) data showed Japan expanded an annualised 4.6 per cent in October-December. That was lower than economists' median forecast for a 5.6 per cent gain and the preliminary reading of 5.4 per cent released last month.

"This suggests that Japan's economic recovery from the pandemic is weaker than that of Europe and the United States," said Norinchukin Research Institute chief economist Takeshi Minami.

On a quarter-on-quarter basis, GDP expanded 1.1 per cent, falling short of the median market expectations for a 1.4 per cent gain.

The change was mostly due to the downgrade in private consumption, a government official told a media briefing.

Private consumption, which makes up more than a half of Japan's GDP, increased 2.4 per cent in October-December from the previous quarter, revised down from an initially-estimated 2.7 per cent gain. Spending in the service sector, in particular, was downgraded to a 3.1 per cent expansion from an initial 3.5 per cent increase.

Recent Industry Ministry data for December showed spending on services such as restaurants and train rides was weaker than the preliminary estimate based on private sector figures, the official said.

"Private consumption was likely quite weak in January, due to soft spending on capital goods such as cars and services," said Mr Minami, adding that fresh uncertainty around Ukraine is cooling business investment.

In the fourth quarter, capital expenditure grew 0.3 per cent, lower than economists' forecasts for a 0.7 per cent gain and a preliminary figure of a 0.4 per cent advance.

While data earlier this month showed robust fourth-quarter business spending, the revised GDP figures reflected weakness in items such as software investment, the official said.

Domestic demand as a whole contributed 0.9 of a percentage point to revised GDP figures, while net exports added 0.2 of a percentage point.

Economists in a Reuters poll last week forecast annualised growth of 0.4 per cent in the January-March quarter, slashing previous projections given Omicron coronavirus variant infections and uncertainties caused by the war in Ukraine.

Japan Research Institute senior economist Yusuke Shimoda said he was still expecting growth to come in positive in the first quarter.

"But we're still in early March," he added. "Further downside risks can't be ruled out depending on Russia's actions."

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