As the FT writes of Japan approaching its 15 recession in 15 years MISH takes a look at how Japan’s GDP has fallen by 3.5% over the last year as ongoing problems with China has severely hit car sales when Japan least needs it.

Japan’s economy shrank an annualised 3.5 per cent between July and September, the steepest decline since the earthquake-hit first quarter of 2011, as exporters suffered big falls in shipments to key markets such as China and Europe.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda described the gross domestic product figures as “severe”, while Seiji Maehara, economy minister, said Japan had possibly entered a “recessionary phase”.

In a speech on Monday, Masaaki Shirakawa, Bank of Japan governor, said there was “no question that the [central bank] should exert every effort to enhance its easing effects as much as possible”. He said domestic demand was “unlikely to increase at a pace that will outperform the weakness in exports”.

The Japanese government’s monthly survey of “economy watchers” – which includes barbers, hoteliers, car dealers and others who deal with consumers – has recorded six falls in a row since April. Last month the index stood at a level little better than that of April 2011, in the immediate aftermath of the quake.

Japanese manufacturers from Nissan to Shiseido have reported steep falls in sales of their products in China, following a wave of demonstrations against Tokyo’s nationalisation of some of the islands in mid-September.

Japan’s top seven automakers have cut their projections for Chinese sales by a fifth, for the fiscal year to March, according to calculations by the Nikkei newspaper.

Relations with China has soured over the desputed islands but this has had a devasting affect on trade.
Exports to China fell 8.2 percent to 5,921.1 billion yen in the first half and slid 14.1 percent to 953.8 billion yen in September, sharper than the 9.9 percent fall in August. It was the fourth consecutive month of deficit as various products, ranging from auto and auto parts to steel and semiconductors, declined notably.

The balance showed Japan suffered the biggest September deficit with China of 329.5 billion yen, as imports gained 3.8 percent to 1,283.3 billion yen.

Resentment in China has accelerated since the Japanese government decided last month to nationalize part of an island group in the East China Sea, also claimed by Beijing and Taiwan.

Japan’s high debt levels were sustainable once upon a time when it had the ability in better times to trade its way through, but that is looking less likely.
The trick for Japan is how to finance its national debt, now at a majorly unsustainable 235% of GDP. Japan was able to do so for years on account of its current account surplus, of which trade is typically the largest component. You can now kiss that surplus goodbye because Japan Current Account Turns Negative

……….
As long as the current account surplus remains, economists say, Japan is in little danger of a Greek-style crisis, since its debt is largely being funded by household savings.

While that remains the case, Japan reported Thursday that the seasonally adjusted current-account was in deficit in September—for the first time in more than 30 years. The sudden surprise drop has some economists warning that Japan’s ability to generate wealth is eroding faster than expected, and its fiscal situation could be more fragile than many had thought.

The Finance Ministry says Japan won’t slip into a structural current-account deficit very easily, since deficits in the trade of goods and services will be offset by huge surpluses in what the country earns on investments in overseas assets such as U.S. Treasury bonds.

But the Japan Center for Economic Research argues a structural deficit in could be as close 2017, noting fuel-import levels are likely to stay high if most nuclear plants stay off.

The Japan Research Institute, another think tank, says a structural deficit could start in 2022 if crude oil prices keep rising. Hideki Matsumura, an economist with the institute, said it could come earlier if the current strong-yen trend, which hurts Japan’s ability to sell overseas, continues.

“Many countries are catching up with Japan in the manufacturing field,” he said. “If they can produce similar products for a cost 20% to 30% less than Japanese do, Japan will soon find no demand for its products.”

…but can Japan make it that far?
Japan has extremely serious issues already, it’s just that the market is ignoring them for now. If interest rates rise by a mere 2% or so, interest on the national debt will consume 100% of Japanese tax revenue.

Global imbalances are mounting. I suspect within the next coupl eof years (if not 2013) Japan will resort to the printing press to finance interest on its national debt and the Japanese central bank will start a major currency war with all its trading partners to force down the value of the yen.

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