Japan's economic growth slowing, analysts say

December 05, 1990|By Asahi News Service

TOKYO -- The twin economic locomotives of personal consumption and capital investment that have led Japan's economic growth for four years seem to be losing steam, according to the results of economic surveys released Monday.

"The end of the splendid period of economic growth is certainly ** nearing because of high interest rates and the end of low-cost equity financing, which had encouraged capital investment," said Kazuaki Harada, chief economist at the Sanwa Research Institute, which is affiliated with the Sanwa Bank.

Shu Tamaru, senior economist at the Industrial Bank of Japan, agreed.

"If things go as they are, we expect the Japanese economy will peak at the middle of next year," he said.

In the past, Japanese companies found it relatively easy to raise money for capital investment by selling new shares, bonds or other securities. A plunge in the stock market has made this more difficult at the same time interest rates have risen from about 4 percent to 8 percent.

There are other indications that the economy is primed for a downturn. The number of new-car registrations, an index of personal consumption, fell 2.7 percent, to 498,563, in November compared with the same month last year, according to the Japan Automobile Dealers Association.

The drop is the first since February 1989, when consumers delayed car purchases in anticipation of the abolition of a commodities tax on luxury items. With the exception of that single dip, new-car sales have risen since May 1987.

A decline in capital investment is also apparent in the manufacturing sector. According to the Japan Federation of Construction Contractors, the total amount of new construction contracts gained by 51 leading Japanese construction and engineering companies from manufacturers decreased 12 percent, to $1.6 billion, in October compared with the same month last year, substantially the first decline in 33 months.

In addition, an increasing number of businessmen think the end of the period of brisk economic growth is nearing, according to a survey of 242 Japanese business leaders conducted by the Federation of Econom

ic Organizations.

Only 27 percent of those surveyed agreed that the economy will continue to grow until September, down from 77 percent who thought so in a July survey. Half of those polled said their own business was declining, up from about 20 percent in July.

"The main reason for the decline is the drop in capital investment caused by high interest rates," Mr. Tamaru said.

It is not that the Japanese economy will necessarily become sluggish next year, said Mr. Harada of Sanwa. "Unless the gulf crisis becomes a real war," he said, "the Japanese economy will see steady growth, if not so fast as in the past four years."

Both technological innovations and a serious shortage of manpower will force businesses to continue investing in new plants and equipment.

Sanwa and Industrial Bank of Japan both said that the real economic growth rate will decline from an estimated 5.2 percent to 5.8 percent in fiscal 1990, to 3.5 percent to 3.7 percent in fiscal 1991, which begins in April.

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