Facing reporters in one of his first interviews since being named Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister, Nobuteru Ishihara said Wednesday the economy is making a steady recovery despite recent sharp falls in stock prices and the negative growth logged in the final three months of 2015.
“There have been no major changes in economic fundamentals,” said Ishihara, who was appointed to the post Jan. 28 as successor to scandal-hit Akira Amari. He pointed to rising profits at companies based in Japan and improving job-to-applicant ratios across the country.
“No doubt the virtuous cycle of the economy is working,” Ishihara said. He was speaking in an interview with The Japan Times and other media outlets.
A son of former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, Nobuteru is an old friend of Abe’s. He was appointed to the post after Amari resigned over a cash-for-favors scandal that also allegedly involved some of his secretaries.
The sharp falls on the stock market last week and the release of figures showing negative growth of gross domestic product — minus 1.4 percent on an annualized basis — for the October-December period, prompted many economists to point out the limits of what the Bank of Japan can do with its ultra-loose monetary easing.
Asked if the administration will turn to fiscal measures to prop up the economy, Ishihara only said that for now Abe’s Cabinet will focus on quick implementation of the supplementary budget for fiscal 2015, which was enacted last month, and will push for early enactment of the fiscal 2016 budget now being deliberated in the Diet.
Many observers say Ishihara was tapped at least partly because he is seen as a clean pair of hands and unlikely to drag the administration into yet another political scandal.
On Jan. 29, Finance Minister Taro Aso alluded to Ishihara’s inexperience in fiscal and financial policy matters.
“He may not be very familiar with this area, but I expect much from what he will do through hard work,” Aso told a news conference at the Finance Ministry.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi named Ishihara in 2003 as infrastructure minister, tasking him with privatizing a gigantic expressway corporation.
To do this he had to overcome resistance from politicians and bureaucrats trying to protect their vested interests, but Ishihara showed little stomach for fighting them, considerably damaging his image as a reform-mined politician.