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Japan raises economic growth forecast for next fiscal year

Exports fall for 12th month in November as shipments to US and China drop

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Japan's shipments to the US declined for the fourth straight month, falling 12.9 per cent in the year to November, hurt by reduced shipments of cars, construction machinery and car parts.

Tokyo

JAPAN'S government raised its economic growth forecast for the next fiscal year, helped by an expected boost from a US$122 billion fiscal package that would help cushion the hit from weaker global demand.

The economy is now expected to expand 1.4 per cent in price-adjusted real terms in the fiscal year starting April 2020, according to the Cabinet Office's projections, approved by the Cabinet on Wednesday.

That marked an upgrade from the government's previous forecast of 1.2 per cent growth issued in July. The government kept its estimated 0.9 per cent growth for the current fiscal year ending in March 2020.

The upgrade largely stemmed from an improvement in domestic demand due to stronger corporate investment and a boost to growth from public spending from the fiscal package approved by the Cabinet this month.

The government expects capital spending to grow a robust 2.7 per cent next fiscal year, compared to 1.9 per cent in the previous assessment in July.

Public demand was seen adding 0.5 percentage point to GDP growth in fiscal 2020, up from 0.2 percentage point seen previously.

The boost from the fiscal package is expected to more than offset weakness in external demand as slowing global growth threatens to leave a deeper mark on the economy.

The government expects a 0.1 percentage point drag from external demand next fiscal year, compared to a positive 0.2 percentage point contribution seen previously.

The downgrade largely stems from a weaker rebound in exports, which the government sees expanding at a pace of 2.4 per cent next fiscal year, down from 4.3 per cent seen previously.

The government's projections come as the Bank of Japan (BOJ) is expected to keep monetary policy on hold on Thursday as the fiscal package and progress in US-China trade talks take some immediate pressure off the central bank to support growth.

The Cabinet Office projected overall consumer inflation, which includes volatile fresh food and energy costs, at 0.6 per cent for this fiscal year and 0.8 per cent for the following year - remaining far from the BOJ's elusive 2 per cent price target.

Japan's economy expanded at an annualised 1.8 per cent in the third quarter because of stronger consumer and business spending, but analysts expect a contraction in the current quarter due to the increasing external and internal pressures.

Weighing on the outlook are a slowdown in China's economy and a nationwide sales tax hike in October, which appears to have hit private consumption harder than policymakers initially thought.

The Cabinet Office said private consumption will grow just 0.6 per cent in fiscal 2019, down from 0.9 per cent seen in the previous assessment in July, due to a decline in consumer sentiment and lower summer bonuses.

For fiscal 2019 and fiscal 2020, the Cabinet Office forecast nominal economic growth of 1.8 per cent and 2.1, respectively.

Higher nominal growth estimates point to government expectations for greater tax revenue.

Japan's exports slipped for a 12th straight month in November, as declining shipments to the US and China hit the trade-reliant economy, raising the risk of a fourth-quarter contraction.

Official data released on Wednesday showed that Japan's exports fell 7.9 per cent year-on-year in November, a smaller decline than the 8.6 per cent decline expected by economists in a Reuters poll.

The gloomy reading, driven by fewer shipments of cars and construction machinery to the US and chemical products to China, marked the longest run of declines in exports since a 14-month stretch to November 2016.

In volume terms, exports dropped 5 per cent in the year to November, the fourth consecutive month of declines.

Industrial output slipped at the fastest pace in nearly two years in October while retail sales and household spending slumped after consumers tightened their purse strings following the sales tax hike.

By region, exports to China, Japan's biggest trading partner, lost 5.4 per cent year-on-year in November, down for the ninth month as shipments of chemicals and car parts declined.

Exports to Asia, which account for more than half of Japan's overall exports, dropped 5.7 per cent in the year to November largely due to declining shipments of flat rollers to Thailand.

Japan's shipments to the US declined for the fourth straight month, falling 12.9 per cent in the year to November, hurt by reduced shipments of cars, construction machinery and car parts.

The nation's overall imports sank 15.7 per cent year-on-year, marking their largest decline since Oct. 2016, and a larger fall than the median estimate for a 12.7 per cent decrease.

The trade balance posted a deficit of 82.1 billion yen (S$1.02 billion), versus a 369 billion yen shortfall seen by economists. REUTERS