This morning we got strong GDP numbers from Japan for Q1. The numbers show that it is primarily domestic demand – private consumption and investment – rather than exports, which drive growth.
This is from Bloomberg:
Japan’s economy grew at the fastest pace since 2011 in the first quarter as companies stepped up investment and consumers splurged before the first sales-tax rise in 17 years last month.
Gross domestic product grew an annualized 5.9 percent from the previous quarter, the Cabinet Office said today in Tokyo, more than a 4.2 percent median forecast in a Bloomberg News survey of 32 economists. Consumer spending rose at the fastest pace since the quarter before the 1997 tax increase, while capital spending jumped the most since 2011.
…Consumer spending rose 2.1 percent from the previous quarter, the highest since a 2.2 percent increase in the first three months of 1997.
So it is domestic demand, while net exports are actually a drag on the economy (also from Bloomberg):
Exports rose 6 percent from the previous quarter and imports climbed 6.3 percent.
The yen’s slide since Abe came to power in December 2012 has inflated the value of imported energy as the nation’s nuclear reactors remain shuttered after the Fukushima disaster in March 2011.
The numbers fits very well with the story I told about the excepted “Kuroda recovery” (it is not Abenomics but monetary policy…) a year ago.
This is what I wrote in my blog post “The Kuroda recovery will be about domestic demand and not about exports” nearly exactly a year ago (May 10 2013):
While I strongly believe that the policies being undertaken by the Bank of Japan at the moment is likely to significantly boost Japanese nominal GDP growth – and likely also real GDP in the near-term – I doubt that the main contribution to growth will come from exports. Instead I believe that we are likely to see is a boost to domestic demand and that will be the main driver of growth. Yes, we are likely to see an improvement in Japanese export growth, but it is not really the most important channel for how monetary easing works.
…I think that the way we should think about the weaker yen is as an indicator for monetary easing. Hence, when we seeing the yen weaken, Japanese stock markets rallying and inflation expectations rise at the same time then it is pretty safe to assume that monetary conditions are indeed becoming easier. Of course the first we can conclude is that this shows that there is no “liquidity trap”. The central bank can always ease monetary policy – also when interest rates are zero or close to zero. The Bank of Japan is proving that at the moment.…the focus on the“competitiveness channel” is completely misplaced and the ongoing pick-up in Japanese growth is likely to be mostly about domestic demand rather than about exports.
While I am happy to acknowledge that today’s numbers likely are influenced by a number of special factors – such as increased private consumption ahead of planned sales tax hikes and likely also some distortions of the investment numbers I think it is clear that I overall have been right that what we have seen in the Japanese economy over the past year is indeed a moderate recovery led by domestic demand .
The biggest worry: Inflation targeting and a negative supply shock
That said, I am also worried about the momentum of the recovery and I am particularly concerned about the unfortunate combination of the Bank of Japan’s focus on inflation targeting – rather than nominal GDP targeting – than a negative supply shock.
This is particularly the situation where we are both going to see a sales tax hike – which will increase headline inflation – and we are seeing a significant negative supply shock due to higher energy prices. Furthermore note that the Abe administration’s misguided push to increase wage growth – to a pace faster than productivity growth – effectively also is a negative supply shock to the extent the policy is “working”.
While the BoJ has said it will ignore such effects on headline inflation it is likely to nonetheless at least confuse the picture of the Japanese economy and might make some investors speculate that the BoJ might cut short monetary easing.
This might explain three factors that have been worrying me. First, of all while broad money supply in Japan clearly has accelerated we have not see a pick-up in money-velocity. Second, the Japanese stock market has generally been underperforming this year. Third, we are not really seeing the hoped pick-up in medium-term inflation expectations.
All this indicate that the BoJ are facing some credibility problems – consumers and investors seem to fear that the BoJ might end monetary easing prematurely.
To me there is only one way to fundamentally solve these credibility problems – the BoJ should introduce a NGDP level target of lets say 3-4%. That would significantly reduce the fear among investors and consumers that the BoJ might scale back monetary easing in response to tax hikes and negative supply shocks, while at the same time maintain price stability over the longer run (around 2% inflation over the medium-term assuming that potential real GDP growth is 1-2%).
PS Q1 2014 nominal GDP grew 3.1% y/y against the prior reading of 2.2% y/y.
PPS See also my previous post where I among other things discuss the problems of inflation targeting and supply shocks.