Japan economy shrinks more than expected, highlights lack of policy options

Mon Feb 15, 2016 2:34am EST
 
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By Leika Kihara and Tetsushi Kajimoto

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's economy shrank more than expected in the final quarter of last year as consumer spending and exports slumped, adding to headaches for policymakers already wary of damage the financial market rout could inflict on a fragile recovery.

Gross domestic product contracted by an annualized 1.4 percent in October-December, bigger than a market forecast for a 1.2 percent decline and matching a fall marked in the second quarter of last year, Cabinet Office data showed on Monday. It followed a revised 1.3 percent increase in the previous quarter.

The data underscores the challenges premier Shinzo Abe faces in dragging the world's third-largest economy out of stagnation, as exports to emerging markets fail to gain enough momentum to make up for soft domestic demand.

Abe sought to reassure markets that Tokyo is ready to stem excessive market volatility that could undermine the wealth effect delivered by his stimulus policies.

"As we have agreed at G7 and G20, sudden currency moves are undesirable. I want the finance minister to closely monitor the situation and respond with appropriate measures as needed," he told parliament on Monday.

Market speculation of additional monetary easing simmers, although the Bank of Japan's policy ammunition appears to be dwindling, analysts say.

"Private consumption is especially weak. The economy is at a standstill," said Junko Nishioka, chief economist at Sumitomo Mitsui Banking.

"It's a matter of time before the BOJ and the government will take additional stimulus measures," she said, predicting the central bank will ease policy again as early as next month.   Continued...

 
A businessman cycles past the Bank of Japan (BOJ) headquarters in Tokyo, Japan, February 15, 2016. REUTERS/Thomas Peter