Japan’s Economic Outlook


Japan’s economic outlook

Category: Fundamental analysis, Intermediate, Currencies, economic cycles, Monetary Policy, Economy, Macroeconomics, Central Banks.


Key Words: Central Banks, Monetary Policy, Bank of Japan, Projections.

At each meeting of the bank’s board, a review is made of the state of the Japanese economy, the projections for the current year and the next two years, and the risks to which the economy is exposed both internally and externally.

In the April 2017 report, the board concluded that the economy would continue its positive trend growing above the potential stipulated by the bank, due to better internal financial conditions, some government stimulus and greater global economic growth. The bank was explicit that the expected growth in 2017 and 2018 would be higher than in 2019 due to a cyclical slowdown in fixed investment in business and an increase in the consumption tax that had already been programmed.

As global growth had generally improved, Japanese exports had shown an upward trend, contributing to economic growth. Private consumption had also been resilient due to a better outlook in the labour market with better employment rates and higher wages.

As already mentioned, the bank expected that by 2019 the local economy would slow down a little due to a slowdown in domestic demand reflecting the closing of the cycle of expansion in business investment in addition to the increase in consumption tax since that year.

Regarding inflation, the annual change in the CPI (Consumer Price Index) excluding fresh food continued to show better figures than in 2016 with a clear upward trend thanks to a better performance of the economy and an increase in expectations medium and long term. But even the price growth is not as strong as the bank would like so they followed the price index with some caution.

The annual CPI for April excluding food and energy was close to 0%, so the bank was still expectant that the price index was far from the target rate of 2%.

Regarding monetary policy, the bank indicated that it would continue to apply Quantitative and Qualitative Monetary Easing with the Yield Curve control, with the objective of using it until inflation hit 2% so that the short-term interest rate would remain in negative territory.

Inflation could reach 2% in the medium and long-term, but not in the short term due to the weak behaviour of the main price indices. It was estimated that in the medium and long term it could reach  2% due to better economic growth rates added to energy prices that have been rising in recent years. In addition, the policy of monetary easing continued to drive the supply of credit and liquidity to the market so that inflation continued to rise to the bank’s target figure.

Also, the unemployment rate continued to decrease showing figures between 2.5 and 3%, so the labour market was narrowing which could generate an increase in the nominal wages of people, which in turn could lead people to consume more and this would boost inflation. The following two graphs show the main projections of the members of the committee and the expected behaviour of the CPI until 2019.

Graph 77. Forecasts of the majority of Policy Board Members. Retrieved 27th February 2018 from https://www.boj.or.jp/en/mopo/outlook/gor1704b.pdf


 Graph 78. CPI (ALL ITEMS LESS FRESH FOOD. Retrieved 27th February 2018 from https://www.boj.or.jp/en/mopo/outlook/gor1704b.pdf


In the July report, the committee stated that the path of economic growth was still positive due to the already exposed factors of a better global panorama and incentives created by the government to stimulate the local economy.

Regarding inflation, there were negative signals that showed a weak CPI (excluding food and energy prices), being in figures between 0 and 0.5%. The bank indicated that it could be due to the caution that the companies had at the time of fixing the prices and the wages of their workers. This behaviour of the companies caused expectations to decrease somewhat on inflation in the medium and long-term. The bank stressed that for inflation to reach 2% companies had to be more determined when setting prices and wages.

What was driving inflation in recent months were energy prices due to higher global demand for fuels and the agreements reached by OPEC to sustain oil prices, which is why the bank was concerned that the other components of the prices were not contributing to the rise of the recent CPI.

Due to the weakness of inflation, the bank decided that it would continue with its policy of monetary easing until inflation was close to levels close to 2%, so that short and medium-term interest rates would remain in negative territory. In addition, the financial market continued to offer credit facilities to the market.

Despite the weak performance, in the bank’s projections, it was estimated that in the medium and long-term the inflation rate would be at 2%, but the projections had fallen slightly on this variable for the next two years.

In the October 2017 report, the bank’s committee continued to observe a positive performance of the economy due to higher exports thanks to the better performance of the world economy throughout 2017.

In terms of domestic demand, fixed investment in business had followed a slight upward trend with better profits from companies and better expectations of entrepreneurs on the Japanese economy.

Private consumption continued to grow moderately, thanks to the better performance of the labour market. There were good rates of job creation and wages rose slightly. Public investment had also had positive behaviour during the last quarter, but not spending by households that had shown flat figures throughout the year.

Looking at the financial conditions, the outlook did not change with respect to the two previously issued reports, since the short and medium-term rates remained in negative territory. Financial institutions were still willing to lend to the market, and corporate bonds were still well received by the market, so the bank continued to observe the accommodative financial conditions.

Although inflation continued to rise slightly as in mid-2017, this behaviour was mainly explained by the rise in fuel prices and energy in general. The weak behaviour of the CPI excluding food and energy was due to the little increase in prices of companies as well as wages and a mobile phone market increasingly competitive in prices.

If you compare the projections that the bank had in October with the projections at the beginning of 2017, the CPI showed a weaker than expected behaviour, but it was expected that in 2018 and 2019 inflation would have more positive figures as shown in the following graph.

Graph 79, CPI (ALL ITEMS LESS FRESH FOOD, Retrieved 27th February 2018 from https://www.boj.or.jp/en/mopo/outlook/gor1710b.pdf


The reasons for a better performance of the CPI for the following years should be given thanks to better conditions in the labour market, better performance of the economy in general and better market expectations. The graph shows that inflation bottomed out at the end of 2016, showing deflationary signs.

The risks faced by the Japanese economy according to the bank were:

  • New regulations implemented in the United States and economic performance will directly affect global growth
  • Geopolitical risks
  • The Brexit negotiations
  • The problem of the European debt

These factors could affect the decline of the Japanese economy due to its direct involvement in world trade. The following graph shows the bank’s projections at the October meeting.

Graph 80. Forecasts of the majority of Policy Board members. Retrieved 27th February 2018 from https://www.boj.or.jp/en/mopo/outlook/gor1710b.pdf


If these projections are compared with those made at the beginning of the year and July, expectations for 2017 and 2018 improved and remained the same for 2019. That shows the good performance of the economy and a slight recovery of inflation, but as the bank reaffirmed that recovery was not robust since it was mainly based on energy prices. The other components of the CPI did not yet show positive figures, so the bank expected 2019 to be close to 2%.

As long as the inflation rate was not close to 2%, the monetary easing policy would continue. That would include negative interest rates and acquisitions, and corporate bonds to provide liquidity to the market and thus achieve better growth rates. This would encourage companies to be more aggressive in its increases in prices and wages of workers, which was not as strong as would be expected from a narrow labour market, although they did rise during 2017.

The following graph shows the CPI excluding food and energy which shows that the figure during 2017 was well below 0.5% which is negative and gives the reason why the bank committee was concerned because the basic items of the index showed a very weak behaviour.


Graph 81. Chart 38, CPI. Retrieved 27th February 2018 from https://www.boj.or.jp/en/mopo/outlook/gor1710b.pdf