Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

from MacroScope:

Bye bye, Japan

Goldman Sachs has long been a keen advocate of the BRICs -- Brazil, Russia, India and China -- as a new power tool for world growth. Indeed, it is credited with coining the phrase.

In a note, the firm says that even though the group is being hit differently by the global slowdown -- Russia suffering most,  India least -- a uniform drive from the four will return as soon as the cycle starts to turn.

It is predicting big things as early as next year.  It says China's economy is already the third largest in the world and it sees it eclipsing current No. 2  Japan as early as 2010. Furthermore, as a group, the four countries are set to be dominant.

"Our long-term projections envisage the BRICs as an aggregate surpassing the G7 by 2035," it says.

Plum blossoms herald spring in chilly Japan



For many, the cherry blossom is the quintessential Japanese flower, its fragile pink petals symbolising the transience of life and its advent in spring an excuse for “hanami” picnics beneath the boughs, where sake and song flow in equal measure.

But some, myself included, confess to a deeper affection for the more modest plum, whose five-petalled white and pink flowers bloom in February, heralding spring despite a winter chill.

Discounting Japan


As Japan’s economy slips back towards deflation, the country’s price-cut kings are raking it in. The latest Forbes wealthiest list for Japan was headed by those running companies offering discount clothes, discount shoes, discount broking, discount drugs – and for people without the funds to take advantage of all the discounts — a consumer lender at far-from-discount interest rates. 

Forbes said the nation’s richest man was Tadashi Yanai, worth $6.1 billion and quarter owner of seemingly recession-proof clothing retailer Uniqlo. Yanai saw a $1.4 billion jump in his fortune after a huge surge in company shares despite the economy shrinking faster than it has in decades. 

Colour me hopeful


The world’s No.2 economy, mired in what may be its longest and ugliest recession, is not wearing its misfortunes on its sleeve — at least not literally.

Yutaka Sato, a spokesman for Millennium Retailing, which runs the Seibu and Sogo department chains, said Japanese consumers are going green in more ways than one.

The allure of free money


People say there’s no such thing as a free lunch. But in theory, a government can have one, some economists and Japanese politicians say, if it wishes to save the economy from deflation and recession. It should just print money and then spend it.

In the past few weeks, some members of Japan’s ruling coalition as well as economists have proposed such a move as the spectre of deflation looms in Japan, now amid what is likely to be its longest economic contraction in modern times.

Japan earnings: How low can they go?


For a company to be losing a lot of money is hardly surprising these days, but I was shocked last week when Hitachi said it would lose 700 billion yen this year, the biggest loss ever by a Japanese manufacturer.

Investors were also shocked, sending shares down 17 pecent the next trading day, wiping out $1.9 billion in market value.

JAL – What a feeling!


At Tokyo’s Haneda Airport today, I watched a bio-fuelled JAL aircraft find loft in a sign of 21st Century change.

But for executives of Japan’s flag carrier, Asia’s largest, the exercise was also a brief diversion from the terrestrial woes of the world financial crisis.

Exports fall off a cliff, yet the yen flies high


Forex markets have not followed fundamentals for a long while so perhaps it is no surprise that the yen is holding near 13-year highs against the dollar, despite new figures showing exports falling off a cliff.

December figures out today show Japanese exports plunged 35 percent from a year earlier — as sales of cars and electronics stall.

Japan markets Obama in masks, books and tourism


As Washington readies for the inauguration of Barack Obama, one Japanese firm is finding out how well his face sells — literally.

Obama mask factory near Tokyo

A mask factory near Tokyo is churning out Obama masks that are fast becoming the firm’s top-selling face, while others are also cashing in on the popularity of the new U.S. president.

What can the Bank of Japan do?


Japanese interest rates have already dropped to just 0.1 percent, leaving the Bank of Japan with few traditional weapons to fight its corner of the global financial crisis as it meets on Wednesday and Thursday this week to review monetary policy.

It could, of course, return to zero interest rates, but Japanese policymakers are not convinced that this worked last time they tried it and, with rates already so low, how much difference would moving to zero make?