August 22, 2017, 5:35 am
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Abe should focus on regulatory reforms, say economists

TOKYO- Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ought to prioritize regulatory reforms, according to economists in a monthly Reuters poll whose forecasts show they remain pessimistic on prospects for the pace of inflation to pick up in coming years.

After reshuffling his cabinet last week in an effort to shore up sinking public support, Abe said the economy remains his top priority. He repeated that he will seek to engineer a positive cycle of higher corporate profits, prices and wages.

The new cabinet lineup, announced after a series of gaffes and missteps by Abe’s government, gave a lift to his support.

But Japan is still faced with prospects of sluggish economic growth and no meaningful pickup in inflation.

In the poll, Japan’s economy is forecast to expand by 1.4 percent in this fiscal year, which ends in March 2018, and just 1.1 percent next. Core inflation is seen averaging 0.6 percent this year and 0.8 percent next, well short of the Bank of Japan’s 2
percent target.

A majority of analysts polled by Reuters Aug. 1-9 also said Abe should proceed swiftly with deregulation, but there was doubt he will do so.

“Bold deregulation, which is a part of (Abe’s) growth strategy, has not progressed much and the government needs to work on that,” said Takumi Tsunoda, senior economist at Shinkin Central Bank.

“To encourage liquidity in the labour market is an important policy, which could support the potential growth rate and also would help raise wages,” he said.

Of 31 economists who answered an additional question on what Abe should do to regain public trust, 18 said he should focus on regulatory reforms.

Among those respondents, 11 cited a need to reform to Japan’s restrictive labour market, while six said the government should prioritize reforms in the medical and elderly care system. One said Abe should encourage introducing better technology and
artificial intelligence to Japanese industry.

To a separate question on what Abe was likely to do, a majority of respondents - 23 of 34 - predicted the prime minister will focus on investment in human resources development and education. Only five thought he will make regulatory reforms a
priority.

In the Reuters poll, 31 out of 35 analysts forecast the Bank of Japan’s next move will be to start unwinding its ultra-easy monetary policy. Four said the BOJ will adopt more easing measures.

But that next move, whether it is scaling down or increasing stimulus, likely won’t come until late 2018 at the earliest, according to the poll.

With inflation at just 0.4 percent, the BOJ last month for a sixth time pushed back the timeframe for achieving its 2 percent target. It now expects inflation will not reach that level until sometime in the fiscal year ending March 2020. 

“When the underlying CPI ... and medium-term inflation expectations rise above 1 percent, we expect the BOJ will raise the 10-year yield target for the first time,” wrote Hiroshi Ugai, chief economist at JP Morgan.

“Since the BOJ focuses on upward momentum of inflation, we do not expect the BOJ will ease monetary policy even if the rising pace of inflation is far behind the BOJ’s outlook.” 

Japan’s exports were expected to record an eighth straight month of growth in July, a Reuters poll found, suggesting robust offshore demand could underpin moderate economic recovery.

Meanwhile, exports are expected to have risen 13.6 percent in July from a year ago, accelerating from a 9.7 percent increase in June, the poll of 15 economists found.

Imports were seen likely to have grown 17.0 percent from a year earlier, up for a seventh straight month.

“The global economy is gradually gaining momentum, so exports could pick up the pace of growth,” said Takeshi Minami, chief economist at Norinchukin Research Institute.

“Imports likely remained solid supported by domestic demand.”

Shipments of auto parts and electronic components appear to be contributing to export growth, while liquefied natural gas, coal and oil have likely boosted imports, analysts say.

The poll showed a trade surplus of 392.0 billion yen ($3.56 billion) was expected in July, after 439.9 billion yen in June, the poll showed.

A separate Reuters’ poll showed Japan’s gross domestic product (GDP), due on Monday, is expected to have grown for a sixth straight quarter in April-June, buoyed by private consumption and capital investment. – Reuters 


 
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