Bank lending unexpectedly rose at its fastest pace since 2009, a positive sign in an economy that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is trying to steer out of the deeper than expected recession.
Loans, excluding lending by local “shinkin” credit banks that serve consumers and small businesses, rose 2.8 percent in November from a year earlier, accelerating from a 2.4 percent increase in October and marking the biggest gain since May 2009.
The median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey of economists was a 2.4 percent rise.
Sliding business investment that drove two straight quarters of contraction underscores Abe’s challenges with his re-election campaign focused on the economy. The weaker yen, one key outcome of Abe’s policies, had the side effect of inflating the local-currency value of dollar-denominated loans extended by metropolitan banks, said Akiyoshi Takumori, an economist at Sumitomo Mitsui Asset Management Co.
“More importantly, lending by local banks is growing as well, a good sign that the benefits of ‘Abenomics’ are gradually expanding to regional economies,” Takumori said.
Japanese companies had near-record cash holdings at the end of June, a stockpile built up over years of deflation, and are headed toward their highest profits ever as the weaker yen boosts earnings from overseas.
“Companies have piled up a huge amount of cash. So we have to see this pile fall through spending on capital investment or wages before we see bank lending grow more remarkably,” Takumori said.
It’s premature to say the unexpected strength in lending is a sign that Japan is clear of deflation, said Toru Suehiro, an economist at Mizuho Securities Co.
“Given that capital investment is not growing and the fundamentals of economy are unstable, chances are high that growth in bank lending won’t continue,” Suehiro said.
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