TOKYO- Japanese firms boosted capital spending in the September quarter, as retailers and wholesalers raised investment ahead of a long-awaited sales tax hike in October and factories maintained their automation push.
Official data on Monday showed capital spending rose 7.1 percent in the third quarter from the same period a year earlier, extending gains in business spending for a 12th consecutive month and outpacing the previous quarter’s 1.9 percent increase.
Business investment has been a rare bright spot for the world’s third-largest economy, as companies move to boost automate their production, however, there are concerns momentum could slow significantly in the current quarter.
Analysts worry merchants’ demand for electronic payment systems to take advantage of the government’s rebate program for shoppers using cashless transactions could fall off in the current quarter while the US-China tariff dispute begins to more deeply affect manufacturing investment.
“That will lead to a pullback which will put downward pressure on capital expenditure in October-December,” said Hiroshi Miyazaki, senior economist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.
“There is a good possibility that business spending will be negative” in the fourth quarter, and pull economic growth into negative territory, he said.
Japan introduced a twice-delayed sales tax hike, raising the levy to 10 percent from 8 percent on Oct. 1 to fix the industrial world’s heaviest public debt burden at more than twice the size of the economy.
To ease the pain on consumers, it rolled out measures such as premium shopping vouchers, different tax rates and discounts for cashless payments.
On a seasonally adjusted basis, capital expenditure slipped 0.8 percent from the previous quarter. Corporate profits and sales fell on year as firms felt the pain from a prolonged Sino-US trade war and slowing growth of China’s economy.
The data will be used to calculate revised third-quarter gross domestic product figures due on Dec. 9.
A preliminary reading out last month showed the world’s third-largest economy ran to a near halt during July to September with growth at its weakest in a year as the China-US trade conflict and soft global demand lowered exports.
A string of gloomy data since then has fuelled speculation the government may put together a large-scale economic stimulus package with fiscal spending exceeding $92 billion to keep the economy’s fragile recovery intact.
Retail sales tumbled at their fastest pace in more than 4-1/2 years in October, while factory output posted its biggest fall since early 2018, exposing widening cracks in an economy that faces weakening foreign and domestic demand.
Capital expenditure, however, has been upbeat as companies replace old equipment and ramp up automation investment to offset a labor market that remains close to its tightest in 45 years as the country’s population ages.
“The bright news is that capital spending in the manufacturing industry was holding up in the July-September quarter,” said Shigeto Nagai, head of Japan economics at Oxford Economics.
“In August, sentiment was not so good because of worries over an acceleration of US-China trade tensions,” he said. “Markets were also in rough weather.”
Manufacturers’ business spending jumped 6.4 percent from a year earlier, Monday’s data showed, rebounding after a 6.9 percent drop in the previous quarter, while that of non-manufacturers advanced 7.6 percent, outpacing the second quarter’s 7 percent rise.
Corporate recurring profit dropped 5.3 percent during the July to September period from a year earlier, falling for the third time in four quarters.
Sales lost 2.6 percent, down for the first time in three years as businesses struggled with weakening demand, and slowing from the previous period’s 0.4 percent gain. – Reuters