Wednesday 13 December 2017

Abenomics won’t dent eurozone but threatens to burst China’s bubble

Colm Kelpie.

SINCE the financial crisis began almost five years ago, a plethora of economic terms have slipped into mainstream conversation.

'Abenomics' is the latest. OK, it's not exactly an economic term but it's fast becoming a buzzword among economists and financial journalists and is attributed to the cocktail of fiscal and monetary policies of Japan's hawkish prime minister, Shinzo Abe.

Mr Abe secured a return to power in December last year and shortly thereafter unveiled a package of measures designed to tackle the deflationary cycle that has dogged the country for more than two decades and revive its sluggish economy.

Quantitative easing, or loose monetary policy, fiscal stimulus and structural reform to boost competitiveness are the cornerstones of the policy.

Mr Abe breathed a sigh of relief this week. Data showed the Japanese economy grew more than initially estimated, consumer confidence was at its highest level since 2007 and stocks surged. By contrast, the economy of China, which overtook Japan in 2010 to become the world's second biggest economic powerhouse, is slowing.

Japan's Nikkei enjoyed large gains in the wake of Mr Abe's election win, but began suffering turbulence in mid May amid fears of weaker export markets and concern that the stimulus plan would not be enough to craft a long-term sustainable recovery.

DAMAGE

University of Limerick economist Stephen Kinsella said the policies would have little effect on Europe. We've too many of our own problems for the Far-East state to make much of a dent.

"I think in the short-term, it's not going to have much of an effect on us at all. I think the eurozone has so many problems of its own, I don't think it will damage Irish competitiveness," he said.

But for those Japanese who have shares and financial assets in the country, the UL lecturer says they're on to a win.

The long-term benefits for the country's economy though are more tricky to predict.

"I think more fiscal policy is needed," Mr Kinsella said.

"Fiscal policy is the only thing that can keep the economy going. Now they're doing monetary policy and we're going to see what the limits of monetary policy are for a developed economy. That's very interesting."

Economist Charles Dumas of London-based Lombard Research said the Japanese Government would need to do more to ensure its inflation target of 2pc was maintained.

"It would be amazing if they don't get pretty good growth this year," he said.

"If they really want lasting inflation at 2pc they'll need to do more. Domestic inflation is unlikely to become significantly positive."

Savers may also look to shift their money elsewhere.

"Japanese savers are getting 0pc on bank deposits and 0.75pc on government bonds, and the main reason that is tolerable is because they've got 1pc deflation. Take that away and the money may move out of the country," he said.

But how will the Abenomics gamble effect Japan's largest neighbour, and the world's second biggest economy, China?

Not well, it is predicted.

State-controlled newspaper 'China Daily' said against the Yen, the value of the Chinese Yuan had increased significantly, while the value of the currencies of India, South Korea and Thailand had also increased.

"This development may curb the economic recovery of these countries," the newspaper said last week.

"The stock and debt markets of these countries, too, may come under pressure, because fears of the Yen depreciating further could force more international short-term capital to flood their markets. That would not only cause their stock and debt prices to fluctuate, but also could lead to inflation."

There's little love lost between the two, so the negative stance is hardly surprising.

But more worryingly, Mr Kinsella said the Japanese policies could cause the current property bubble in China to burst.

"China is already in a bubble. If Japan is inflating, it's changing the terms of trade with China and that could really harm China because it would pop the Chinese real estate bubble early. That's the worry."

And Mr Dumas believes it may ultimately lead to a currency war, a view disputed by Mr Kinsella.

"This is a case of two Pacific giants fighting over non-existent growth in eurozone imports. It's a tough situation," Mr Dumas said.

Pulling Japan out of its slump is a huge task. If he can pull it off, Mr Abe's reputation would be secured at home and abroad.

Austerity-weary nations are keeping a close eye on the Far-East state and its progress to see if any lessons can be learned.

Irish Independent

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