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Japan govt approves US$800 billion budget

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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet approved on Thursday a record fiscal 2016 budget that counts on higher growth and tax revenue to achieve his aim of reviving the economy and reining in huge public debt.

[TOKYO] Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet approved on Thursday a record fiscal 2016 budget that counts on higher growth and tax revenue to achieve his aim of reviving the economy and reining in huge public debt.

Total spending for the fiscal year starting April 1 will be 96.72 trillion yen (S$1.12 trillion), up a tad from this year's initial plan to spend 96.3 trillion yen.

The draft budget - the fourth since Abe returned to power in late 2012 - features record welfare spending to cope with a fast-ageing population and a military outlay that topped 5 trillion yen for the first time ever.

The proposed budget underscores the challenge Abe faces in striking a balance between the need to stimulate the flagging economy ahead of an upper house election and at the same time to curb the world's heaviest public debt burden.

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Finance Minister Taro Aso said this budget was in line with Japan's aim of achieving a primary budget surplus - excluding new bond sales and debt servicing - in fiscal 2020. "This budget is appropriate for marking the first step towards our fiscal plan, while managing both economic revival and fiscal consolidation," he told reporters.

RISING CORPORATE PROFITS

Tax revenue is estimated at a 25-year high of 57.6 trillion yen on the back of rising corporate profits, allowing Tokyo to cut fresh borrowing to an eight-year low of 34.43 trillion yen.

This would bring Japan's fiscal dependence, the ratio of bond issuance to budget revenue, to 35.6 per cent - the lowest since fiscal 2008, just before the global financial crisis hit the world's third largest economy.

But fiscal improvement depends largely on tax revenue windfalls from corporate profits due to a weak yen, and on low interest rates that limit rises in debt-servicing costs.

Social security spending, the budget's biggest item, will rise 441 billion yen to a record 31.97 trillion yen.

Defence spending hit a record 5.05 trillion yen, rising for a fourth year in a row, reflecting US base realignment and China's rising military might.

Assumed interest rates will be cut from this year's 1.8 per cent to a record low of 1.6 per cent thanks to massive debt buying by the central bank, limiting gains in interest payments. Still, the snowballing pile of outstanding debt will push up debt-servicing costs by 161 billion yen to a record 23.61 trillion yen.

REUTERS

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