• Reuters, Kyodo


Japan kept unchanged its timing for balancing the primary budget on Friday, but expects to see a much smaller excess than previously thought when it hits a budget surplus, underlining the government’s struggle to rein in massive public debt.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government stuck to its forecast of achieving a budget surplus by fiscal 2027, but expects it to be slimmer due to a downward revision to its outlook for economic growth and tax revenues since previous projections made in July.

In its twice-yearly fiscal and economic projections, the government now expects the primary budget, excluding new bond sales and debt servicing, to swing to a surplus of just ¥300 billion ($2.73 billion) in the fiscal year starting April 2027. The previous projection was a surplus of ¥1.6 trillion.

The latest calculations underscore the challenge faced by the world’s third-largest economy in fixing its tattered finances as the costs of caring for its rapidly graying population continue to grow.

Japan has the industrial world’s heaviest debt burden, more than twice the size of its ¥551 trillion economy, and policymakers have wrestled to keep it in check as they spend more on social security and public works.

Abe has placed greater importance on growth, to preserve a fragile economic recovery, than on fiscal reform.

In its July estimate, the government expected the primary budget balance to swing to a 0.2 percent surplus of gross domestic product in fiscal 2027, but now it forecasts an excess of less than 0.1 percent.

Abe’s Cabinet is expected to submit to parliament a record ¥102 trillion draft budget for the next fiscal year, set to start in April, after managing to secure parliamentary approval for a ¥13 trillion fiscal package aimed at sustaining growth.

The government is sticking to an optimistic forecast of 1.4 percent real gross domestic product growth for the next fiscal year, nearly three times as high as the 0.5 percent economic growth seen by private-sector economists.

That growth forecast was upgraded last month based on an improvement in domestic demand due to stronger corporate investment, as well as a boost to growth from public spending from the fiscal package.

In the government’s most optimistic scenario, it expects real GDP growth to fall back to 0.8 percent in fiscal 2021 — down from a forecast of 1.3 percent real GDP growth released at its previous assessment in July last year.

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