3 years of massive stimulus spending in Japan has had no impact on the problem it was supposed to solve. This is highlighted by new government data on household spending for 2015, as the charts above confirm – they compare 2015 data with that for 2012, before Abenomics began:
- Spending was almost exactly the same at every age group in 2015 versus 2012, when premier Abe took office
- Spending in the peak age range of 50 – 59 was just ¥250/year higher, and ¥7900 lower in the 40 -49 age group
- It still declines 31% once people reach the age of 70 – critically important with Japan’s ageing population
- In US$ terms, of course, the numbers are lower due to Abe’s focus on devaluing the yen since he took office
- US$ spending in the two peak age groups of 40 – 49, and 50 – 59, has fallen by $15k/year to $29k/year
This matters, because consumer spending is 60% of Japanese GDP.
The quite scary result is that the Bank of Japan has spent ¥200tn ($1.84tn) since Abe came to power on its quantitative easing programme. Yet the Abenomics policy has completely failed to achieve its major objectives of boosting GDP and inflation:
- GDP growth was -1.1% in Q4 2015
- Inflation was 0% in January 2016
As a result, Japan now has the world’s highest level of government debt as a percentage of GDP at 226%.
Yet premier Abe and Bank of Japan Governor Kuroda refuse to accept that their policies have failed. Instead, just like the European Central Bank yesterday, they have decided to implement their policies on a greater scale. Thus Japan introduced negative interest rates in January, meaning that the Bank now charges you to deposit money with it.
Clearly these are increasingly desperate measures, which have a vanishingly small chance of being successful. Past performance is no guarantee of future results, but it is usually the best guide that we have. And understandably, Japan’s Diet (its parliament) is becoming very concerned – Governor Kuroda has been summoned for questioning a record 25 times so far this year.
One major concern is that Japan’s value proposition for foreign investors is looking increasingly unattractive:
- Foreigners have to pay the government to lend it money (and so are guaranteed to get back less than they lend)
- They also know devaluation remains a key policy, meaning that the return in their currency will probably be lower
- And GDP growth is almost impossible with Japan’s median age now 47 years and its population will decline 600k/year by 2020
Premier Abe initially promised that he would restore the country to growth within 2 years, and push inflation to at least 2%. Today, 3 years later, his Abenomics policies have entered the end-game. Some investors will no doubt continue to maintain positions in Japan, as it is still the world’s 3rd largest economy.
But they will no doubt be keeping a close eye on their exit opportunities. When the rush starts, nobody will want to be left behind.