Business / Economy | ABENOMICS — THE BOTTOM LINE

'Abenomics' fails to get households spending

by Mizuho Aoki

Staff Writer

This is the final story of a four-part series on evaluating Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s namesake economic program, backed by the aggressive monetary-easing by the Bank of Japan.


The Bank of Japan’s unprecedented monetary easing launched two years ago is still making headlines and sparking heated debate among financial analysts — but has the policy benefited the overall economy, making life better now than before March 2013, when BOJ Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda took up his post?

Data suggest the massive quantitative easing helped push the yen’s value down, benefiting big export-oriented firms and boosting stock prices.

But when it comes to household budgets, it is a different story. The weaker yen and last April’s consumption tax hike have combined to push up living costs for consumers and thus lowered their wages in real terms, effectively keeping the overall economy sluggish after two years of the radical monetary policy, experts said.

“I believe full-scale (economic) recovery won’t happen unless the household sector starts to pick up,” said Taro Saito, director of economic research at the NLI Research Institute.

According to labor ministry data for January, nominal wages climbed for an 11th straight month, but the average real wage, or inflation-adjusted wage level, dropped for a 19th straight month.

Average household spending accordingly declined 2.9 percent in February from a year earlier, down for an 11th straight month, Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry data show.

Given the weakness in private consumption, which accounts for around 60 percent of gross domestic product, Japan technically fell into a recession last year. GDP shrank an annualized real 6.4 percent in the April-June quarter last year, followed by a 2.6 percent July-September fall.

Although GDP grew 1.5 percent in the October-December period, the recovery has been slow, experts said.

According to the latest opinion poll conducted by the BOJ every three months, the ratio of respondents who said the economy has deteriorated compared with the previous year increased for the fourth consecutive time, to 38.8 percent in January from 19.6 percent in March 2014.

To be sure, much of the weak private consumption can be attributed to the negative impact of last April’s sales tax hike from 5 to 8 percent.

“The 3 (percentage point) consumption tax hike had too much impact, when we had yet to exit from deflation,” NLI’s Saito said. “The hurdle is high for (the economy) to get back to the level before the consumption tax hike.”

Saito estimated it would take until 2016 for consumer spending to exceed levels prior to the tax hike.

Analysts also predict real wages will probably increase soon, thanks to recent falls in the price of crude oil. But while this is good news for consumers, it is not an achievement that can be attributed to Kuroda’s massive monetary easing.

“It’s quite lucky for households to see a drop in oil prices. The weaker yen had some negative effects on household budgets, but (lower oil prices) offset such impacts,” Saito said.

Mizuho Research Institute Ltd. estimates that real wages will increase by 1.2 percent in fiscal 2015 from the previous year, given expected pay hikes and slowing price increases due to the falling oil prices.

The expected pay hikes are partially attributable to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push to pressure major firms to boost wages. But they are also partly because of a shortage of workers due to a graying and shrinking population, experts said.