Japan factory activity shrinks at fastest pace in 2½ years

Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, is facing weakening demand and struggling to tame cost pressures. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO – Japan’s manufacturing activity contracted at the fastest pace in 30 months in February, a business survey showed on Tuesday, in a worrying sign for the world’s third-largest economy, which is facing weakening demand and struggling to tame cost pressures.

The au Jibun Bank Flash Japan manufacturing purchasing managers’ index (PMI) fell to a seasonally adjusted 47.4 in February, from a final 48.9 in the previous month.

The index stayed below the 50 level that separates contraction from expansion for a fourth consecutive month and marked the largest decline since August 2020’s 47.2.

Factory output and new orders decreased for an eighth straight month and at faster rates than in January, the sub-index data showed.

Export orders logged the biggest decrease since July 2020 on relentlessly weak global demand, as seen in recent indicators such as the slower-than-expected gross domestic product growth in the October-to-December period and January’s record trade deficit.

By contrast, service sector activity grew for a six straight month with further relaxation of domestic Covid-19 countermeasures. The government last month said it would downgrade the coronavirus public health classification in May.

The au Jibun Bank Flash Services PMI rose to a seasonally adjusted 53.6 in February – an eight-month high – from the previous month’s 52.3 final.

“Service providers posted sharper rises in activity and new business as the latest wave of the Covid-19 pandemic faded, providing a boost to demand,” said Mr Andrew Harker, economics director at S&P Global Market Intelligence, which compiles the survey.

But service firms’ input costs rose at the fastest pace in eight months, while the inflation for prices they charged to customers advanced only to a two-month-high, indicating thinner profits.

“Companies will be hoping to see price pressures ease meaningfully in the coming months to provide some support to customer demand,” said Mr Harker.

Despite the challenged cost environment, service operators’ confidence improved, with the business sentiment sub-index rising from a 10-month low.

Overall, the au Jibun Bank Flash Japan Composite PMI was at 50.7 in February, in line with last month’s final figure, as the gloomy manufacturing index was offset by a rosy service PMI. REUTERS

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