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Delta may soon peak, Kishida seeks to replace Suga

The government this week expanded state of emergencies to nearly all prefectures and consumers are responding to the surge in virus cases with renewed caution. We’ve therefore pencilled in a renewed fall in consumer spending this quarter. However, there are early signs that the Delta wave is peaking in Tokyo and we still expect a strong rebound in consumption in Q4 as the majority of the population will be vaccinated by then. Meanwhile, former Minister of Foreign Affairs Kishida Fumio will run against PM Suga in next months’ LDP leadership election but his chances of winning are slim.
Tom Learmouth Japan Economist
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Japan Economics Weekly

Demographic woes persist, tourists waiting at the gate

An exodus of long-term migrants contributed to the 0.6% fall in Japan’s population last year but with border controls loosened since March net migration is bouncing back strongly. Even so, we still see GDP growth settling around 0.5% over the longer-term as a shrinking workforce offsets productivity gains. Meanwhile, Japan remains a highly popular tourist destination and once the onerous procedural requirements for entry are lifted, probably sometime in Q4, tourist arrivals and spending should rebound strongly.

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Output will return to pre-virus trend eventually

With a record virus wave sweeping across the country and consumer confidence slumping, we’re slashing our forecast for Q3 consumption growth from 0.8% to 0.2%. While the government has refrained from declaring another state of emergency, spending was weakening even before virus cases started to surge. That means that GDP will remain much weaker in the near term than the pre-pandemic trend, forcing the Bank of Japan to keep policy loose even as central banks elsewhere are tightening the screws. However, we still expect that gap to close eventually, for two reasons. First, while the long-running rise in the labour force participation rate stalled over the last couple of years, the share of the population available for paid employment is now on the rise again. What’s more, mobility has recently reached pre-virus levels for the first time since the start of the pandemic, which suggests that households are learning to live with the virus even if currently they are not spending as before. The still very high household savings rate should fall in earnest before long.

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More from Tom Learmouth

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Consumer spending to fall across Q3

The latest high-frequency data point to the relentless surge in new coronavirus cases starting to weigh heavily on consumer activity this month. And with full-blown emergency declarations to be expanded to cover around 80% of Japan’s economy from Friday, we now expect consumer spending to fall across Q3 which should cause GDP to once again tread water.

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Strong Q4 still on the cards

With daily cases surging to unprecedented levels and states of emergency extended to mid-September this week, there may not seem to be much light at the end of the tunnel for Japan’s economy. However, we’re cautiously optimistic that a strong recovery is just around the corner. Japan’s vaccine coverage is now not far off the rates seen in DMs where most domestic restrictions have already been “permanently” lifted. PM Suga outlined this week that he’s targeting getting 50% of the population fully vaccinated by the end of this month, and 60% by end-September. The vaccine rollout has progressed rapidly over the past couple of months and is broadly on track to meet those targets. The UK’s vaccination rate was only 53% when the last domestic restrictions were removed in England. Hospitalisations and deaths have remained contained in the UK despite daily cases peaking as high as 50,000-a-day. Even in Singapore – where virus containment measures have been far more heavy-handed than in Japan – domestic and border restrictions are being eased now that the vaccination rate has reached 70%. Japan should get to 70% by around late-October. Even if the Japanese government did wait until then to remove most domestic restrictions, it would still come in time for GDP to rebound strongly next quarter.

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Japan Economics Weekly

Drag from emergency measures fading

While new virus cases and hospitalisations have hit record-highs this week, the rebound in services consumption in Q2 suggests that households are getting increasingly blasé about state of emergency declarations. One small downside risk are part shortages resulting from virus disruptions in Southeast Asian suppliers. But given that Japan is on track to reach vaccination levels that have prompted other large advanced economies to ease virus restrictions by the end of this quarter, any setback in manufacturing will probably be overwhelmed by a further recovery in services.

20 August 2021
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