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Japanese Businesses Plan More Investment Even as Sentiment Slips

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(Bloomberg) -- Japan’s large companies plan to increase investment this year, even as a stronger yen may be undercutting their confidence, which slipped a little from the highest level in more than a decade.

Highlights

  • Sentiment among large manufacturers fell to 24 from three months ago (forecast 25), according to the quarterly Tankan survey released by the Bank of Japan on Monday.
  • The outlook among large manufacturers fell to 20 (forecast 22).
  • Large non-manufacturers’ sentiment fell to 23 (forecast 24).
  • Large companies across all industries say they plan to raise fixed investment by 2.3 percent in the year through March 2019. (forecast 1%)

Key Takeaways

Despite a stronger yen, which cuts into profits, large companies said they plan to increase capital spending more than economists forecast. The yen was the second-biggest gainer among major currencies in the first quarter and its continued appreciation could damp pay raises this year, hurting the Bank of Japan’s efforts to end deflation.

What Our Economist Says
"The strong yen appears to have put a small dent in sentiment of Japan’s big manufacturers," Yuki Masujima of Bloomberg Economics wrote. But "steady-to firmer readings on gauges for small companies -- which make up the bulk of the economy -- sent a positive message on domestic business conditions."

Economist Views

  • “I think this is actually a pretty good Tankan result with a lot of positives,” Izumi Devalier, head of Japan economics at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said on Bloomberg TV after the release.
  • Manufacturers faced a bit of yen appreciation and there was some protectionist noises coming out of Washington, so it’s not surprising that they are not feeling as optimistic as they did three months ago, she said.
  • The investment forecast is “impressive” and unless some downside risks materialize, it’s likely to be revised up over the coming quarters, she said.
  • “Japanese companies have become a bit cautious, and the strong yen and weakened momentum in production are contributing to that,” said Takashi Shiono, an economist at Credit Suisse Group. “They are still looking at the yen being weaker than the current level so I think there is room for the sentiment to decline further.”
  • Given the cautiousness, it’s hard to imagine we’ll have strong wage growth, Shiono said.

Other Details

  • Large manufacturers forecast the yen will trade at 109.66 per dollar in the fiscal year ending in March 2019.
  • Among small companies, manufacturers’ sentiment was unchanged at 15, while that of service firms rose to 10 from 9.
  • The Tankan was conducted from Feb. 26 to Mar. 30, surveyed 10,020 companies.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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