Latest figures suggest that Japan could be entering a ‘double-dip’ or ‘W-shaped’ recession. In the second quarter of 2009, Japan managed to achieve a modest 0.9% growth after four quarters of contraction. Growth then accelerated to 1.2% in the third quarter. It now seems likely, however, that the fourth quarter could see a contraction of the economy again – or at best a slow-down in growth. Prices are falling as demand remains stagnant, and this deflation could encourage people to hold back from spending as they wait for prices to fall further.
As the British government announces planned spending cuts to tackle the rapidly mounting public-sector deficit and debt, so Japan has just announced a massive further fiscal stimulus of ¥7.2 trillion (£50 billion) or 1.5% of GDP. Although Japan’s public-sector deficit is no longer the highest of the G7 countries – 7.4% of GDP, compared with 12.6% for the UK, 11.4% for the USA and 8.2% for France (see OECD Economic Outlook November 2009, summary of projections – its debt, currently at 190% of GDP, is by far the highest of the G7 countries (this compares with 115% for Italy, 76% for France, 73% for Germany, 69% for the UK and 65% for the USA).
More than half of the fiscal stimulus will go on increases in government expenditure, especially on public works. However, much of the spending is in the form of a transfer to regional governments, which would otherwise be forced to make spending cuts because of falling tax revenues. So is the stimulus too much, too little, or of little relevance? Read the linked articles below, which consider the issues.
Japan growth estimate slashed Sydney Morning Herald (9/12/09)
Double dip could be taking shape for Japanese economy Market Watch, Lisa Twaronite (9/12/09)
Japan to boost recovery with giant stimulus plan Sydney Morning Herald, Kyoko Hasegawa (8/12/09)
Japan steps up stimulus spending Sydney Morning Herald (8/12/09)
Japan public debt to hit record this fiscal year AsiaOne News (Singapore) (8/12/09)
Japan govt unveils $81 bln economic stimulus Economic Times of India (8/12/09)
Japan’s economic growth figure lowered BBC News (9/12/09)
Japan agrees $81bn stimulus package BBC News (8/12/09)
Japan unveils $80bn of direct spending in $274bn stimulus package Telegraph (8/12/09)
It is Japan we should be worrying about, not America Telegraph (1/11/09)
Japan keeps pouring money into its ailing economy Times Online, Leo Lewis (9/12/09)
Japan’s Leader Promotes $81 Billion Stimulus Plan New York Times, Hiroko Tabuchi (8/12/09)
Japan sets out $81bn stimulus plan Financial Times, Mure Dickie (8/12/09)
Fiscal challenges ahead The Asahi Shimbun (Japan) (8/12/09)
Bond jitters as Japan launches yet another stimulus plan Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (8/12/09)
New Stimulus Won’t Save Japan From Deflation, Soaring Deficit Money Morning, Jason Simpkins (8/12/09)
- Use the threshold concepts of stocks and flows to explain the difference between public-sector deficits and public-sector debt.
- Why might an economy go into a ‘double-dip’ or ‘W-shaped’ recession?
- For what reasons might this latest stimulus package be regarded as (a) too large and (b) too small to tackle Japan’s macroeconomic problems?
- Discuss the proposed policy of banning firms from hiring temporary workers.
- Why does deflation (in the sense of falling prices) create a problem for governments?
- What are the implications for the market for Japanese government bonds of the latest stimulus package?
With much attention focused on the UK’s rapidly rising public-sector debt, fiscal policy will have to be tightened once the economy is recovering. This will entail substantial cuts in government expenditure and possibly tax rises too, whoever wins the election next year. The danger, of course, is that if aggregate demand is cut, or its growth is severely curtailed, the economy could lurch back into recession. For this reason, it is likely that monetary policy will have to remain expansionary for some time to come. Interest rates will stay low and further quantitative easing could take place.
This was the conclusion of a report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (see link below). The CEBR argued that Bank Rate will remain at 0.5% at least until 2011 and not reach 2% until 2014. “The forecasts show that the fiscal consolidation is likely to be matched with an unprecedented monetary relaxation. … Douglas McWilliams, one of the report’s authors and Chief Executive at CEBR, commented: ‘We are likely to see an exciting policy mix, with the fiscal policy lever pulled right back while the monetary lever is fast forward. Our analysis says that this ought to work. If it does so, we are likely to see a major rerating of equities and property which in turn should stimulate economic growth after a lag.’
The following articles look at the report and the implications of its predictions for economic growth and exchange rates.
Bank rate to ‘stay frozen’ for five years Times Online (11/10/09)
Mortgage rates to stay low until 2014 Telegraph (12/10/09)
Tax and spending squeeze to keep bank rate low David Smith’s EconomicsUK.com (11/10/09)
UK rates ‘to stay low for years’ BBC News (12/10/09)
Pound plunges as UK markets rally to year high Telegraph (11/10/09)
Tough times ahead as traders poised to offload their sterling Sunday Herald (11/10/09)
CEBR News Release (12/10/09)
- Under what conditions would a combination of a contractionary fiscal policy and an expansionary monetary policy be most effective in delivering economic growth?
- What would be the long-term effect on private-sector debt?
- How would such a policy mix affect the rate of exchange? Would this help to stimulate economic growth or dampen it?
- How will the size of these effects depend on the mobility of international financial capital?
- Explain the following: ‘Our analysis says that this ought to work. If it does so, we are likely to see a major rerating of equities and property which in turn should stimulate economic growth after a lag’.
The following two clips look at John Maynard Keynes’s contribution to macroeconomics and whether his theories have been proved to be correct by the events of the past two years.
“What would John Maynard Keynes make of the financial crisis and the credit crunch?” In the first clip, “Author Peter Clarke, former professor of modern British history at Cambridge University, and the former Conservative chancellor Lord Lamont consider whether Keynes’s ideas were twisted by modern politicians to support their desires to run big spending deficits.”
What would Keynes make of the crisis? BBC Today Programme (25/9/09)
Is Keynes influencing today’s politics? (video) BBC News (2/10/09)
- How is the recent crisis and recession similar to and different from the Great Depression of the inter-war period?
- Can recent fiscal policies adopted around the world be described as Keynesian?
- How would a government of a Keynesian persuasion attempt to manage the move from recession to economic growth and deal with the problem of mounting public-sector debt?
This podcast is from the BBC’s Today Programme on Radio 4. With government debt set to rise from around 45 per cent in 2007 to around 85 per cent by 2010, is there a danger that the UK might find it difficult, or even impossible, to fund the debt through the necessary issuing of bonds and other government securities? In the podcast, Richard Portes, Professor of Economics at London Business School, and Gerard Lyons, Chief Economist at Standard Chartered Bank, discuss the question.
Could the UK default on its debt? BBC Today Programme (20/8/09)
For data on general government debt in OECD countries, see OECD Economic Outlook No. 85 Annex Tables 62 and 32. See also tables 27 to 30 for data on general government deficits.
Public sector borrowing soaring BBC News (20/8/09)
Public sector finances, July 2009 ONS (20/8/09)
- Compare the UK’s general government debt with that of other major countries. Consider both the level of debt and its changes in the past three years and projected changes over the next two years.
- Why, according to Professor Portes, is there virtually no chance that the UK will default on its debt?
- What is the most likely route by which the level of debt will be reduced over the coming few years?
- What are the implications for long-term interest rates if the UK government debt remains at high levels?