Slices of Japanese business, politics and life
Oops, that was a secret?
“I didn’t know about that (the release time). I’m sorry. Don’t make much of a fuss” Japanese Trade Minister Masayuki Naoshima told a TV reporter on Monday, right after he accidentally revealed the GDP figures ahead of their official release.
The minister looked sincerely surprised when informed of the official release time, but the light tone of his comments suggested that he did not fully understand the gravity of the error.
He later offered a more formal apology, and Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano reprimanded Naoshima for his leak of the market-sensitive data, which showed Japan’s economy grew much more than expected in the third quarter.
Still, I was surprised to see Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama smiling when asked about Naoshima’s mistake.
“I can understand his wanting to spread the good news to the public,” Hatoyama told reporters. “But the rule should be maintained. If you say he was careless, he surely was, and in that sense, it was regrettable.”
Naoshima made the blunder in a speech to the oil industry, but the small crowd of domestic reporters covering his event did not report it, and in that sense, the new minister was lucky.
Overall, Japanese media coverage of the leak has been relatively small, considering how it could have moved financial markets.
I remember how the then Liberal Democratic Party-led Japanese government in 1999 was forced to confirm economic growth figures, after a business daily reported GDP data ahead of its official release. At that time, share prices surged and the yen jumped after the report.
Since then, the government has become more careful about handling GDP data and the release time has been moved from mid-afternoon to 8:50 a.m. — before the stock market opens.
Monday’s numbers were the first GDP figures since Hatoyama’s Democratic Party took power, though I cannot help but wonder how a senior official of the world’s No.2 economy was not wise to their potential sensitivity.
“They still haven’t got out of the habit of being an opposition party,” said Kyohei Morita, chief economist at Barclays Capital Japan. “It is embarrassing…. It makes me sad as a Japanese citizen.”
Photo credit: REUTERS/Toru Hanai