Japan’s economy shrinks, raising fears of recession

Japan’s economy shrinks, raising fears of recession

TOKYO - Agence France-Presse
Japan’s economy shrinks, raising fears of recession

Workers load a container on a truck at a port in Tokyo. Japan’s economy shrank in the last quarter, marking the first contraction in three quarters. REUTERS photo

Japan’s economy shrank in the latest quarter, data showed yesterday, raising fears it could slip into recession due to financial turmoil in Europe, a strong yen and a painful diplomatic row with China.

The world’s third-largest economy contracted 0.9 percent between July and September from the previous three months, equivalent to an annualised 3.5 percent drop which Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda described as “severe”.

The fall is yet more bad news for an economy that was already showing signs of strain, with tumbling factory output and the worst September trade figures in three decades.

Commentators warned the future is bleak, with a litany of worries including the Chinese consumer boycott of Japanese goods caused by a territorial row, an export-denting strong yen and the expiry of incentives for car buyers.

Noda -- under pressure to call a general election -- told parliament yesterday that he would work “with a sense of crisis” to address the country’s economic woes.

“I have also been instructing ministers concerned to draw up an economic package, possibly this month,” Noda said, as he pointed to the first $5.0 billion tranche of a previously-announced stimulus.

The package came on top of measures taken in the wake of last year’s quake-tsunami disaster, when Tokyo tried to spur growth by offering incentives for fuel-efficient vehicle purchases and measures to rebuild the northeastern coastline after the disaster.

Nearing recession

While the latest figures beat market expectations of a 3.9 percent annualized contraction, it was the sharpest decline since last year’s crisis, with household and company spending as well as exports all slowing.

Another three months of shrinkage in the October-December quarter would mean Japan has slipped back into a technical recession, which is defined as two successive quarters of contraction. Economy minister Seiji Maehara pointed to those fears yesterday with comments likely to heap pressure on the Bank of Japan for further stimulus.

“We cannot deny the possibility that the Japanese economy has entered into a recessionary phase,” Maehara told a press briefing.

Last month, the Bank of Japan unveiled $138 billion in fresh monetary easing after central banks in the United States and debt-hit Europe also announced fresh measures to fuel growth.