The Bank of Japan’s “tankan” survey to be released this week will probably show that companies’ reluctance to deploy record stockpiles of cash is diminishing as they become less pessimistic about the economic outlook.
The index of sentiment at large manufacturers will climb 11 points to minus 3 in June, according to the median forecast in a survey of 19 economists, the highest level since September 2008.
A negative number means pessimists outnumber optimists. Companies will project their first spending increase in three years, the survey of analysts showed.
Higher business investment would diversify the foundations of the export-led recovery, a need underscored Monday by figures showing retail sales weakened in May. While BOJ Gov. Masaaki Shirakawa sees signs the rebound is starting to spur domestic demand, the central bank is unlikely to tighten policy while deflation lasts, economist Minoru Nogimori said.
“The tankan survey may ease concern that financial-market instability will slow growth,” said Nogimori, an economist at Nomura Securities Co. “But the improvement won’t necessarily signal an end to the easy monetary policy.”
The export revival is prompting companies such as Sanyo Electric Co. to expand production and others like Nikon Corp. to increase spending on plants and equipment.
Businesses aim to boost spending by 0.9 percent in the year ending next March 31, after planning cutbacks of 3.9 percent three months ago, according to the median estimate of 12 economists. That would be the first increase since fiscal 2007. The tankan is due at 8:50 a.m. Thursday.
Any improvement in sentiment would contrast with the outlook among investors, whose concern that global demand will falter has sent the Nikkei 225 stock average 12 percent lower this quarter. Europe’s fiscal woes have also spurred the yen to climb against all 16 major currencies since March 31, threatening exporters’ competitiveness.
At home, retailers saw sales slow in May in a sign that the impact of government incentives to purchase cars and household appliances is fading. Spending rose 2.8 percent in May from a year earlier, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said, the smallest advance since January.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan this month released plans for boosting economic growth as well as shrinking the budget deficit to contain the world’s biggest public debt. The growth strategy aims to halt the slide in consumer prices by the end of next fiscal year and urges the BOJ to “make utmost efforts” to end deflation. The goal to restore fiscal health may leave the burden on the BOJ to help sustain the recovery.
“We expect the government to continue making demands of the BOJ,” said Chiwoong Lee, senior economist at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in Tokyo. “We think the BOJ will maintain its accommodative monetary stance and continue to search for additional easing measures.”
The BOJ has kept the benchmark interest rate at 0.1 percent since December 2008, and has since injected cash into the economy by providing low-interest loans to banks. This month it unveiled a ¥3 trillion program to encourage lending to companies.
The government raised its growth forecast last week to 2.6 percent for the year ending March 31, predicting the export-led rebound will fuel outlays by businesses and households.
Companies will use record cash obtained from a “particularly rapid earnings recovery” to buy plants and equipment, said Ryutaro Kono, an economist at BNP Paribas. “We expect cashed-up large manufacturers to show the strongest signs of an increased willingness to channel funds into new capital investment,” Kono said.
Nikon said this month it aims to more than double net income to ¥65 billion in the year ending March 2013. The company will increase capital spending to ¥120 billion over three business years, up 9 percent from the preceding plan.
Sanyo said this month that it will boost solar-panel production capacity at plants in Osaka and Shiga prefectures. The world’s biggest maker of rechargeable batteries is forecasting its first annual profit in three years.
The tankan is also expected to show an improvement in nonmanufacturers’ confidence. The sentiment index for large service companies will improve seven points to minus 7, also the highest since Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. collapsed in September 2008, according to the median estimate of economists.
Market turmoil may damp the corporate mood in coming months, according to Hiromichi Shirakawa, a former BOJ official, who warned against downplaying the risk of an export slump triggered by Europe’s debt problems.
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