Weak domestic demand and consumer consumption as Japan's population and workforce steadily age leave the economy increasingly dependant on export growth and overseas demand. To date the slowdown in US demand has been comensated by growth in Europe and China, but now there are clear signs the Chinese authorities really will have to throw the brake on growth this year as iflation gets steadily out of control, while the slowdown in Europe is now gathering speed more rapidly than the one in the United States. Goldman Sachs Group today cut its estimate for Japanese growth in 2008 arguing that slower export demand has put the risk of a recession in Japan at a "danger level". Goldman cut their growth forecast to 1 percent from 1.2 percent and said the Bank of Japan will have to forego any interest rate increases until next year. I would go further. I would say that a recession in Japan is now a foregone conclusion. The only real question is how deep and for how long. 1% growth may well be on the optimistic side, and I would start out at 0.5% and subject to downward revision. On the BoJ, as Claus says, it isn't so much that they won't raise as when are they likely to cut, and when will we be back (yes, that dreaded word) to ZIRP.
Japan has had three recessions since the country's stock and property bubble burst in the early 1990s. The first lasted 32 months from March 1991 to October 1993, while the second dragged on for 20 months from June 1997 to January 1999. The most recent recession was in the 14 months from December 2000, following the bursting of an information-technology boom. So all the indiactions are that this recession will not be a short affair. It needs to be borne in mind that each time round now Japan's population is older, and the fragility of the underlying situation proportionately greater.
As Claus was indicating in his recent post, there is probably now going to be a certain monotony in the data here, as it all moves - sometimes more slowly and sometimes more quickly - in the same direction. The centre of action is now likely to move to the political stage and to following how the Japanese population react to yet another disappointment.
``We project weaker-than-expected growth in the first half of 2008 owing to an inevitable, moderate slowdown among emerging economies,'' said Tetsufumi Yamakawa, chief Japan economist at Goldman Sachs in Tokyo.