Japan to suffer bigger-than-expected slump in first quarter amid pandemic curbs: Reuters poll

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Economy7 hours ago (Feb 11, 2021 11:25PM ET)

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A worker walks at an industrial zone in Urayasu

By Kaori Kaneko

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s economy will suffer a much bigger contraction than initially expected in the January-March quarter, as an extended state of emergency to contain the coronavirus pandemic hurt corporate and household spending, a Reuters poll found.

A firm majority of analysts said whether or not Tokyo proceeds with the Olympic Games this year would have little impact on the economy either way, as most big construction projects have already been completed and spectator numbers may be limited.

The world’s third-largest economy is expected to have shrunk an annualised 5.0% in the current quarter, the Feb. 1-10 poll of 37 economists showed, double a 2.4% contraction projected last month.

The downgrade is largely due to the government’s decision in January to roll out renewed restrictions to combat a spike in infections in Tokyo and several other prefectures.

“With the state of emergency, weak consumer spending is proving to be a major drag to growth,” said Takeshi Minami, chief economist at Norinchukin Research Institute.

“The economy is expected to rebound in the second quarter and grow thereafter, but at a moderate pace as the pandemic remains a risk.”

Analysts expect Japan’s economy to shrink 5.3% in the current fiscal year ending in March before expanding 3.6% the following year.

Core consumer prices, which exclude volatile fresh food prices, will fall 0.5% this fiscal year and grow only 0.2% next fiscal year, according to the poll, unchanged from projections made in the previous month.

More than half of respondents expected the Bank of Japan’s next policy move to be an unwinding of stimulus, though most do not expect this to happen until 2023 or later.

OLYMPICS IMPACT LIMITED

Adding to the uncertainty is the fate of the already delayed Tokyo Olympic Games as the government struggles to roll out vaccines and faces heat for its slow progress in containing the pandemic.

While organisers are preparing to hold the Olympics from July, nearly 80% of the Japanese public are opposed to holding the Summer Games as planned, recent media polls showed.

Asked how much the Olympics, if held, would push up growth in the next fiscal year beginning in April, 26 economists – or 68% of the total polled – said there would be little boost.

Around 69% said there would be little impact on the economy if the Olympics were canceled.

“Most Olympics-related business investment has already been done,” said Tetsuya Inoue, chief researcher at Nomura Research Institute.

The boost to consumption would also be limited even if the Games proceed because Tokyo would likely limit the number of spectators, he added.

(For other stories from the Reuters global economic poll:)

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