Japan’s economy contracted more than expected in the first three months as a slow vaccine rollout and new COVID-19 infections hit spending on items such as dining out and clothes, raising concerns the country will lag others emerging from the pandemic.
Capital expenditure also dropped unexpectedly and export growth slowed sharply, a sign the world’s third-largest economy is struggling for drivers to pull it out of stagnation.
The dismal reading and extended state of emergency curbs have heightened the risk Japan may shrink again in the current quarter and slide back to recession, defined as two straight quarters of recession, some analysts say.
“Global chip shortages caused a marked slowdown in exports, putting a drag on capital spending as well,” said Yoshimasa Maruyama, chief market economist at SMBC Nikko Securities.
The economy shrank an annualized 5.1 percent in the first quarter, more than the forecast 4.6% contraction and following an 11.6% jump in the previous quarter, government data showed on Tuesday.
The decline was mainly due to a 1.4 percent drop in private consumption as state of emergency curbs to combat the pandemic hit spending for clothing and dining out.
But the bigger-than-expected contraction also reflected a surprise 1.4% drop in capital expenditure, which confounded market expectations for a 1.1% increase as companies scaled back spending on equipment for machinery and cars.
Domestic demand knocked 1.1% point off gross domestic product (GDP), while net exports shaved off 0.2 point, the data showed.
“That domestic demand is weak shows the adverse effects from the coronavirus haven’t been shaken off at all,” said Takeshi Minami, chief economist at Norinchukin Research Institute.
Despite massive monetary and fiscal stimulus, Japan’s economy slumped a record 4.6% in the fiscal year that ended in March, the data showed.
“And the Bank of Japan seems to be out of fresh policy stimulus ideas currently, so we don’t anticipate anything new from them apart from extending existing measures.”
Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura blamed the weak GDP reading mainly on the curbs to combat the pandemic, adding the economy still had potential to rebound. .
“It’s true service spending will likely remain under pressure in April-June. But exports and output will benefit from a recovery in overseas growth,” he told reporters.
Japan’s economy expanded for two straight quarters after its worst postwar slump in April-June last year due to the initial hit from the pandemic.
The export-driven recovery came to a standstill as consumption took a hit from a spike in new virus strains that froced the government to re-mipose curbs just 10 weeks before the Tokyo Olympic Games.