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Japan automakers, airlines see central bank cut driving demand

[TOKYO] It won't show up in time for this week's earnings release, but Toyota Motor Corp may have gotten a gift from the Bank of Japan's unconventional policy choices.

The central bank's surprise move to negative interest rates on Jan 29 could boost Japanese domestic demand, while the weaker currency that's likely to result from the policy is a boon for exporters. That's particularly important to Toyota, which earns more profit than all other Japanese automakers combined.

The maker of Corolla compacts and Prius hybrids, which reports earnings Feb. 5, may earn a record 2.39 trillion yen (US$19.7 billion) in the fiscal year ended in March, according to the average estimate of 26 analysts. Foreign exchange effects boosted the company's operating income by 305 billion yen in the first half of its fiscal year.

Before the BOJ's announcement, the prospect of a stronger yen was worrisome for Toyota's outlook, Christopher Richter, a Tokyo-based analyst at CLSA Ltd, said by phone Monday. That scenario is less likely to materialize after the BOJ's Jan 29 move.

"This neutralizes any negative impact from the yen going into the next fiscal year," Richter said. "The yen probably isn't going to weaken a whole lot beyond 120, so we don't see Toyota getting much of a tailwind, but staying even with this year."

The Nikkei 225 stock average extended gains Monday, rising 2 percent to 17,865, its highest close in nearly a month. The yen continued its biggest slide in more than a year, trading at 121.23 yen to the dollar as of 6:47 p.m. Monday in Tokyo.

The Bank of Japan's decision to try negative interest rates, which impose a charge on some reserves financial institutions keep at the central bank, could spur domestic purchases as a weaker yen drives inflation. It also could stimulate exports, executives from Honda Motor Co, Daihatsu Motor Co, and Hino Motors Ltd said.

"The move should give a boost to companies and wipe away uncertainty about the outlook," Tetsuo Iwamura, a Honda executive vice president, said Jan 29 in Tokyo.

Daihatsu's Norihide Bessho, a senior executive officer at Japan's second-biggest minicar maker, also viewed the rate cut favorably.

"If this helps set off a chain reaction then it will boost the economy and wages, helping sell cars," he said in a telephone interview Jan 29.

A weaker yen also makes it cheaper for tourists to visit Japan, another fillip for the economy. The number of tourists to Japan rose 47 per cent last year as the yen tumbled for a fourth straight year, hitting a 13-year low in June. A record 19.7 million foreigners visited Japan in 2015, with the number of people coming to the country overtaking Japanese people traveling abroad for the first time in 45 years.

"The currency is a major driver for overseas visitors, and so it will have a positive impact," Yuji Hirako, an executive vice president at ANA Holdings Inc, the nation's largest airline, told reporters Jan 29.

The central bank move also comes as the government is raising spending to push the economy. The Japanese parliament on Jan 20 approved an extra 3.5 trillion yen budget for the fiscal year ending March 31, a month after it passed a record budget for next business year.

"The government is getting to grips with supporting the economy, which is reassuring," Tatsushi Iwano, the president of real-estate company Loadstar Capital K.K., said in a Jan 29 telephone interview. "The move to negative interest rates may not make it easier to borrow immediately, but will be positive if it spurs banks to go the extra mile." Costly Imports Not all of Japan Inc. would welcome a weaker yen. A drop in the Japanese currency makes imports more expensive, raising manufacturing costs for companies that buy parts from abroad.

While Japan's electrical equipment and electronics makers have moved production abroad, more than half of all parts used last year in Japan's domestic manufacturing were expected to be imported, according to forecasts by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation released in December.

"A stronger dollar has a negative impact on our earnings," Sony Corp.'s Chief Financial Officer Kenichiro Yoshida told reporters in Tokyo on Friday.

Still, if lower interest rates spur borrowing and capital investment, that would stimulate the economy, Morgan Stanley MUFG Securities Co. economists Takeshi Yamaguchi and Robert Feldman wrote in a Jan. 29 report.

BoJ easing "may prop up borrowing demand related to capex, real estate, and housing over the medium term, thus supporting domestic demand," the analysts wrote.


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