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Japan's Economy Recovers Pre-Pandemic Size on Consumption Gain – Financial Post

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The world’s third largest economy recovered to its pre-pandemic size in the second quarter, as consumer spending picked up following the end of coronavirus curbs on businesses.

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(Bloomberg) — The world’s third largest economy recovered to its pre-pandemic size in the second quarter, as consumer spending picked up following the end of coronavirus curbs on businesses. 

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Gross domestic product grew at an annualized pace of 2.2% in the second quarter of this year, coming in below the median estimate of 2.6%, Cabinet Office data showed Monday. That lifted the size of the economy to 542.1 trillion yen ($4.1 trillion), above what it was at the end of 2019. First quarter GDP was revised to an expansion from a prior contraction.

“The economy managed to return to its pre-pandemic size, but its recovery pace has been slower than other nations,” said economist Takeshi Minami at Norinchukin Research Institute. “I expect growth to continue in the third quarter too, but it will likely be losing momentum down the road.”

The end of pandemic restrictions on businesses in late March helped spur the economy. Consumer spending, which accounts for more than half of Japan’s economic output, led the growth, as did capital expenditure. The relaxing of Covid rules resulted in increased spending at restaurants and hotels, as well as on clothes, according to the Cabinet Office.

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Still, the gains were more limited than expected a few months ago, showing that pent-up demand among consumers has been moderate. 

What Bloomberg Economics Says…

“Going forward, we expect growth to slow in 3Q. Persistent cost-push inflation and a surge in new Covid-19 cases point to downside risks to the recovery. These will probably outweigh any boost from inventory rebuilding.”

— Yuki Masujima, economist

For the full report, click here.

While the economy regained its pre-pandemic size, economists expect the central bank to stick to its current easing policy, and the government to continue providing support for households hit by both the pandemic and rising prices. Other developed economies are doing the opposite by raising interest rates to cool demand and rampant inflation.  

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Japan’s milestone also comes behind the US’s, which recovered its pre-pandemic economy size a year ago, while much of Europe regained it at the end of 2021.

The report came out as downside risks mount at home and abroad. Japan has been reporting record Covid infection cases with daily numbers continuing to top 200,000 this month. The government has so far kept economic activity as normal as possible without bringing back restrictions. But high-frequency data suggest people’s mobility is falling. 

In Japan’s key trading partners, growth is slowing as the US and Europe fight inflation and China sticks to its zero-Covid policy. The war in Ukraine continues to disrupt food and energy supplies while the crisis in Taiwan is adding to geopolitical risks. 

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Inflation remains relatively moderate in Japan, but consumption may cool with prices rising faster than wages. After factoring in inflation, paychecks in Japan have been falling for three months in a row through June. 

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida reshuffled his cabinet last week but signaled that the core parts of his policies will remain the same. Kishida also suggested he’ll remain flexible on fiscal support, although he’ll focus on spending existing reserve funds first before reaching for additional debt issuance. 

Japan Kishida Orders Continued Wheat Prices Cap, More Grants (1)

Kishida ordered Monday another set of measures to contain inflation by early September, with a boost in funding for regional governments and a continued cap on imported wheat prices. He emphasized that wage gains need to be sustained, while saying that the additional support measures will concentrate on food, regional grants and energy. 

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For now, the measures will be supported by existing reserve funds, though Kishida said he’ll remain flexible in his approach.

“Inflation can cool consumption, although oil prices may stabilize with the global economy slowing down,” said Norinchukin’s Minami. “As downside risks mount in the world economy, there’s a risk that Japan’s economy could contract at some stage toward the end of the year.”

Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda has repeatedly said that the central bank must retain its easing program to support the economy until inflation becomes sustainable. He’s still seeking healthy wage gains, and price rises that go beyond a boom in commodities. 

So far, economists expect growth in Japan to remain moderate for the rest of the year, slowing as the months progress. For the third quarter, analysts expect annualized gains of 3.2%. 

(Updates with more details on additional price relief measures)

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South Korea’s factory output falls in warning for global economy – Al Jazeera English

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Asia’s fourth-largest economy sees industrial output shrink a worse-than-expected 1.8 percent in August.

South Korea’s factory production fell for a second straight month in August, a warning sign for the global economy as it faces risks from the war in Ukraine to rising interest rates.

Asia’s fourth-largest economy saw industrial output shrink a worse-than-expected 1.8 percent on a seasonally-adjusted monthly basis after falling 1.3 percent in July, government figures showed on Friday.

Compared with the same month a year earlier, factory output rose 1.0 percent, the slowest pace since September 2021.

However, output for the services sector rose 1.5 percent on the month, while retail sales jumped 4.3 percent, the fastest gain since May 2020.

The figures follow a raft of data showing slowing factory output in other major Asian economies, including China, Japan and Taiwan.

China’s factory activity slowed further in September following a decline the previous month, as Beijing’s ultra-strict “zero COVID” policies hit production and sales, according to a private sector survey released on Friday.

South Korea, one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of cars, chips and ships, is seen as a barometer of the health of global trade as its companies span a vast swathe of the world economy.

South Korea’s exports, which account for nearly 40 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), are expected to slow sharply in September, with a survey of economists by the Reuters news agency predicting the slowest growth in nearly two years ahead of the release of official figures next month.

“This is certainly concerning for the domestic and global economy,” Min Joo Kang, senior economist for South Korea and Japan at ING, told Al Jazeera.

“The weaker than expected industrial production was driven by Korea’s main export items such as semiconductors and petrochemicals. This would have a negative impact on GDP for Korea for sure and also suggests global demand weakness. Usually it takes 4-5 quarters for semiconductors to come out of their downward cycle, thus the bottom hasn’t come yet.”

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German Economy Seen Shrinking Next Year Due to Energy Crisis – BNN Bloomberg

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(Bloomberg) — Germany’s economy will likely contract by 0.4% next year due to the impact of the energy crisis, according to the nation’s leading research institutes, who slashed their forecast from April of a 3.1% expansion.

German output will be €160 billion ($154 billion) lower this year and next than projected five months ago partly due to the drastic increase in energy costs, the four institutes predicted Thursday in a twice-yearly report which the government uses as guidance for its own outlook.

“The Russian attack on Ukraine and the resulting crisis on the energy markets are leading to a noticeable slump in the German economy,” said Torsten Schmidt, head of economic research at the RWI Institute and spokesman for the Joint Economic Forecast Project Group.

Germany is one of the countries hardest hit by the energy emergency triggered by the Ukraine war thanks to a reliance on Russian fuel imports built up over decades. Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s ruling coalition is racing to cut back that dependence but Germany still faces a tough winter with the prospect of gas rationing and blackouts.

The government has assembled three packages of aid measures worth nearly €100 billion to offset the impact on households and companies but has also cautioned that it doesn’t have the resources to ease the pain completely.

“Record inflation rates, especially exploding energy prices, are hitting many companies hard,” Martin Wansleben, managing director of the DIHK industry lobby, said Thursday in an emailed statement.

“The consequences are production stops, losses in value creation, the relocation of production abroad and even plant closures,” he added. “The number of companies that either do not receive any energy supply contracts at all or only receive them at extreme prices is currently increasing.”

Although the energy crunch is expected to ease over the medium term, gas prices are likely to remain well above pre-crisis levels, meaning “a permanent loss of prospe­rity for Germany,” the institutes warned.

They cut their growth estimate for this year to 1.4% from 2.7% and said they expect inflation to accelerate in coming months, climbing to an average rate of 8.8% next year — compared with 8.4% this year — before gradually falling back toward 2% in 2024.

Europe’s biggest economy will likely return to growth in 2024, with expansion of 1.9%, the institutes predicted.

The four institutes which compile the twice-yearly forecasts are Munich-Based Ifo, the IfW in Kiel, the IWH in Halle and the Essen-based RWI. The Wifo and the IHS institutes in Vienna also contribute. The government is expected to publish updated economic projections next month.

(Updates with industry lobby comment from sixth paragraph)

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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U.S. economy shrinks at 0.6% annual rate in Q2 – Advisor's Edge

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Consumer spending grew at a 2% annual rate, but that gain was offset by a drop in business inventories and housing investment.

The U.S. economy has been sending out mixed signals this year. Gross domestic product, or GDP, went backward in the first half of 2022. But the job market has stayed strong. Employers are adding an average 438,000 jobs a month this year, on pace to be the second-best year for hiring (behind 2021) in government records going back to 1940. Unemployment is at 3.7%, low by historic standards. There are currently about two jobs for every unemployed American.

But the Fed has raised interest rates five times this year — most recently Sept. 21 — to rein in consumer prices, which were up 8.3% in August from a year earlier despite plummeting gasoline prices. Higher borrowing costs raise the risk of a recession and higher unemployment. “We have got to get inflation behind us,” Fed Chair Jerome Powell said last week. “I wish there was a painless way to do that. There isn’t.”

The risk of recession — along with persistently and painfully high prices — poses an obstacle to President Joe Biden’s Democrats as they try to retain control of Congress in November’s midterm elections. However, drops in gasoline prices have improved consumers’ spirits in the past two months.

Thursday’s report was the Commerce Department’s third and final take on second-quarter growth. The first look at the economy’s July-September performance comes out Oct. 27. Economists, on average, expect that GDP returned to growth in the third quarter, expanding at a modest 1.5% annual pace, according to a survey by the data firm FactSet.

Commerce also on Thursday released revised numbers for past years’ GDP. The update showed that the economy performed slightly better in 2020 and 2021 than previously reported. GDP rose 5.9% last year, up from the previously reported 5.7%; and, pounded by the coronavirus pandemic, it shrank 2.8% in 2020, not as bad as the 3.4% previously on record.

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