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from Breakingviews:

Abe’s small hits weightier than big trade miss

By Andy Mukherjee 

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Shinzo Abe’s big miss in prizing open Japan’s farm economy is making investors needlessly glum. The prime minister’s smaller recent successes, from thawing out frozen land and labour markets to reining in healthcare costs, add up to a strong reform push.

U.S. President Barack Obama came to Tokyo last week, ate sushi and left without a free trade deal. The two sides said differences have narrowed, but finding a way around Japan’s agricultural tariffs – the levy on imported rice is a massive 778 percent – is proving a tough task.

The reluctance to use the trade accord as a way to make Japanese agriculture more competitive reflects poorly on Abe’s reformist credentials. It also calls into question the fate of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the eagerly anticipated multilateral trade deal. But Tokyo had tactical reasons to seek a delay. It’s unclear if Obama will be able to muster political consensus for an accord before the U.S. mid-term Congressional elections in November.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

Abe’s disturbing lack of focus

President Barack Obama’s trip to Asia this week has focused mostly on Japan’s territorial disputes with China. On this issue, Obama seems to be repeating the same mistakes he made in Ukraine.

By creating false expectations of U.S. support for the Japanese position, the president is encouraging Japan to escalate its belligerent rhetoric. That, in turn, makes Chinese military action to seize the disputed islands more likely. Everyone knows that there is no chance of the United States going to war with China to defend Japan’s claim to four uninhabited lumps of rock.

from Breakingviews:

Japan index: Economy is ready to take on tax hike

By Andy Mukherjee

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

The Breakingviews Abenomics Index climbed to a six-year high in February, suggesting the economy has enough strength to withstand this month’s sales tax increase. Wages and inflation expectations firmed up, while hopes of further monetary easing pushed bond yields lower.

from Breakingviews:

Ranbaxy sale shows risk in Japanese M&A adventures

By Peter Thal Larsen

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Daiichi Sankyo has just reminded corporate Japan of the dangers of overseas adventures. The drugmaker is handing control of its ailing Indian affiliate Ranbaxy to local rival Sun Pharmaceutical in a $3.2 billion deal. The investment has lost almost 40 percent of its value in six years.

from Lawrence Summers:

The right agenda for the IMF

The world’s finance ministers and central bank governors will gather in Washington this week for the twice yearly meetings of the International Monetary Fund. Though there will not be the sense of alarm that dominated these meetings after the financial crisis, the unfortunate reality is that the global economy’s medium-term prospects have not been so cloudy for a long time.

The IMF in its current World Economic Outlook essentially endorses the secular stagnation hypothesis -- noting that the real interest rate necessary to bring about enough demand for full employment has declined significantly and is likely to remain depressed for a substantial period. This is evident because inflation is well below target throughout the industrial world and is likely to decline further this year.

from Breakingviews:

Triple defence will shield Japan from tax burden

By Andy Mukherjee

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

If history is a reliable guide, the Japanese economy will wilt when the country raises its sales tax on April 1. When Japan last increased the levy in 1997, consumer spending collapsed. But the three-pronged defence Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is putting in place makes a repeat doubtful.

from Global Investing:

Asia’s path to prosperity and investment opportunities

Investors have been worried about the effect of a Chinese slowdown on Asian emerging markets, but the long-term growth story is still intact, according to specialist investment manager Matthews Asia.

Consumption is one of the key areas of growth. Illustrating the divergence of Asian economies and their path to prosperity, here's an interesting chart from Matthews which shows the standard of living of various Asian countries, expressed by applying Geary-Khamis dollars -- the concept of international dollars based on purchasing power parity -- to today's Japan.

from Breakingviews:

Japan stock market selloff is a temporary setback

By Peter Thal Larsen

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Japan’s stock market has suffered a temporary setback. The country’s equity indices have dropped more than 10 percent this year in local currency terms. With the central bank on standby for more easing, however, Japanese stocks should benefit from home support.

from MacroScope:

Putin welcomes Crimea in

Vladimir Putin has told Russia’s Duma that he has approved a draft treaty to bring Ukraine’s Crimea region into Russia and in doing so continues to turn a deaf ear to the West’s sanctions-backed plea to come to the negotiating table.

Overnight, Japan added its weight to the sanctions drive, suspending talks with Moscow on an investment pact and relaxation of visa requirements. EU and U.S. measures have targeted a relatively small number of Russians and Ukrainians but presumably there is scope to go considerably further, particularly if Putin decided to move into eastern Ukraine too.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

Japan as the crisis next time

Which major economy is most likely to disappoint expectations this year, and perhaps even cause a financial crisis big enough to break the momentum of global economic recovery? The usual suspects are China and southern Europe. But in my view the most likely culprit will be Japan.

While Japan no longer attracts much attention these days, it is still the world’s third-largest economy, with a gross domestic product equal to France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal combined. Its industries still pose the main competitive challenge to U.S., European and Korean manufacturers, and its regional weight is still sufficient to trigger financial crises across the whole of Asia -- as it did in 1997.

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