Some market strategists say major Japanese companies are poised to gain momentum after a solid fiscal 2014 paved the way for reaping even greater windfall from a weaker yen and plunging global oil prices give an extra boost to business activity.
This upbeat outlook for Japan Inc. is expected to sway corporate executives to approve pay hikes in the annual wage talks this spring, as requested by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, stimulate tepid domestic demand and lift prices in the long run, these strategists said.
They say that with all these developments, Abe’s bid to lift Japan out of its long deflationary malaise will get back on track. His efforts were derailed in part when the economy tumbled into recession after the first stage of the consumption tax hike last April and wages failed to keep pace with his inflation bid.
“We have high hopes that robust growth will be achieved by strong external demand and the advantage of a weaker yen,” said Makoto Morita, a senior strategist at Daiwa Securities.
Daiwa Securities estimates that pretax profit at major companies will rise 11.6 percent in fiscal 2015 after a projected 9.7 percent increase in fiscal 2014.
Nomura Securities expects an increase of 13.1 percent, while SMBC Nikko Securities is forecasting 9.4 percent.
The three major securities houses say growth will be led by the manufacturing sector. Among the three, Daiwa is the most bullish, predicting a profit rise of 15.8 percent for the sector in the coming business year.
The weaker yen, which dropped to a seven-year low against the dollar this month, is set to boost automakers like Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co., Honda Motor Co., and help other major exporters in the auto, electronics and machinery industries, which depend in large part on the U.S. economy, where growth is expected to bolster their overseas businesses.
A weaker yen makes Japan-made products more price competitive overseas and lifts income earned abroad when repatriated. For example, each time the dollar strengthens by ¥1, Toyota’s annual operating profit rises by ¥40 billion (about $333 million). The world’s biggest carmaker by volume expects a record operating profit of ¥2.5 trillion in the current business year through March.
The profit forecasts by the three securities houses are based on an average exchange rate of ¥108.0 to ¥115.0 to the dollar for fiscal 2015, versus their ¥105.5 to ¥109.0 assumed average rate for fiscal 2014.
The dollar’s recent level around ¥120 leaves plenty of room for even higher growth at Japanese manufacturers, strategists said.
Hisao Matsuura, a senior strategist at Nomura Securities, said he estimates every ¥1 appreciation of the dollar will raise major Japanese firms’ pretax profit by 0.7 percent in fiscal 2015.
An additional push will come from the recent plunge in global oil prices, which will reduce the fuel costs of airlines, shipping and other transportation companies.
Similarly, rubber products makers like Bridgestone Corp., as well as plastic and other industrial material manufacturers, will be able to trim costs to purchase materials derived from crude oil.
In turn, companies with reduced operating costs will be able to offer services and products at lower prices, spurring domestic consumption that slumped sharply after the consumption tax was raised to 8 percent from 5 percent in April, economists said.
JAL and ANA already plan to cut fuel surcharges on their international flights from February, a move that could spark travel demand.
“This (drop in oil prices) is an enormous advantage to Japan,” said Robert Feldman, chief economist at Morgan Stanley MUFG in Tokyo.
Feldman said that more than ¥5 trillion in demand, equivalent to lowering the consumption tax by 2 percentage points, will be created as long as oil prices stay around current levels.
Reignited demand will turn around the outlook for firms operating mainly in the domestic market and reeling from the lingering effect of the consumption tax hike, strategists said.
The fading impact of the tax increase and expected wage hikes will lift pretax profit in the retail sector 13.8 percent in fiscal 2015, a major turnaround from a 0.9 percent fall in fiscal 2014, Nomura estimates.
But the weaker yen, and even the sharp drop in global crude oil prices, as long as it lasts, can harm some Japanese companies, especially when changes occur too fast to allow for an adequate response.
A weakened yen makes imports of raw materials and other ingredients more expensive for paper-making and food companies, while the drop in crude oil prices remains a big headache for oil refiners like JX Holdings Inc. and trading houses such as Sumitomo Corp., which have invested heavily in oil exploration.
The murky outlook for Russian and some other oil-producing countries’ economies following the collapse in oil prices could also pose a serious challenge to companies aggressively tapping into emerging countries, strategists said.