Japan lowers view of economy on exports

TOKYO • The Japanese government has downgraded its assessment of the economy for the first time in three years, underscoring rising concerns ahead of a sales-tax hike slated for October.

The Cabinet Office cited recent weakness in exports and industrial production in its monthly report released yesterday, although it said the economy continued to recover at a moderate pace.

Japan’s economy is sputtering as global growth slows. The flagging recovery puts Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in a tough position.

Previous increases in the sales tax have hit consumers hard. In 2014, Japan’s economy contracted sharply after the tax was raised.

The Bank of Japan (BoJ) has also taken a dimmer view of the economy, cutting its assessment of exports and production in its latest monetary policy meeting last week. Some officials believe it will be hard to reach the BoJ’s 2% inflation target even in 2021, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Cabinet Office downgraded its assessment of factory production for a second straight month, saying it has become “almost flat”. Exports are “in a weak tone”, it said, after data on Monday showed that shipments fell for a third straight month in February.

Bloomberg Economics’ Yuki Masujima expects GDP to take a hit in the first quarter, with the GDP tracker pointing to a 2.5% annualised contraction from the previous quarter. — Bloomberg