(Bloomberg) — Confidence among Japan’s large manufacturers picked up more than expected, while sentiment for non-manufacturers soared to the highest in 32 years in the three months ended in September, as the economy continued to recover from the pandemic.
An index of sentiment among the country’s biggest manufacturers rose to 9 in September from 5 three months earlier, according to the Bank of Japan’s quarterly Tankan report Monday. The result exceeded the consensus estimate of 6, and the reading shows optimists outnumber pessimists by a growing margin. Carmakers and food and beverage producers were among those whose sentiment improved the most.
Confidence among non-manufacturers rose to 27, the highest since December 1991, as service sector companies continued to benefit from the lifting of pandemic curbs. The reading for large companies in the accommodation, eating and drinking industry jumped to 44 from 36.
The yen’s weakening to levels not far off multi-decade lows is spurring this effect, as it boosts the spending power of inbound tourists who are returning in droves, supporting a wide swath of companies in the services industry. The weak yen also deters outbound travel, channeling leisure spending to domestic destinations.
“Corporate profits are good and the BOJ will monitor how much companies distribute those gains to workers in the form of higher wages,” said Mari Iwashita, chief market economist at Daiwa Securities Co.
The survey comes as the outlook for exports improves on signs China’s economy is stabilizing. China’s official manufacturing and non-manufacturing purchasing managers’ index and the corresponding Caixin gauges were in expansion territory for the first time since March. In the US, the monetary tightening cycle may be nearing an end.
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The broad improvement in the Tankan is in line with the BOJ’s view that the economy remains on a moderate recovery path. The weaker yen also brightens the earnings outlook of exporters including carmakers, which were among those posting robust results for the April-June period.
The Tankan showed companies forecast the dollar-yen to trade at 135.75 in the current fiscal year, compared with 132.43 three months ago.
What Bloomberg Economics Says…
“The data supports the BOJ’s forecast for easing core inflation — and backs the central bank’s apparent commitment to sticking with stimulus for the time being.”
— Taro Kimura, economist
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The latest sentiment readings aren’t likely to shake BOJ Governor Kazuo Ueda’s resolve to hold policy settings steady for now, even if authorities upwardly revise official inflation forecasts — as widely expected by economists — when they gather later this month.
Still, the survey continued to reflect expectations for steady inflation, with the three-year price growth projection for all industries steady at 2.2%.
“The BOJ expects inflation to be moderate, but the survey confirms that companies are expecting rather a strong trend,” said Iwashita.
The BOJ is closely watching corporate sentiment as authorities examine various data to judge whether inflation might settle into a positive cycle in which it’s driven by domestic demand and accompanied by wage growth. A big part of recent price gains resulted from higher food and fuel costs due to the weak yen and soaring energy prices.
Data Friday showed that consumer prices excluding fresh food slowed to 2.5% in Tokyo in September, as cost-push factors abated and demand forces remained fragile. Industrial output was unchanged month on month in August, and consumer confidence fell for a second month in September, prompting the Cabinet Office to downgrade its assessment to say the recovery in sentiment has stalled.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida ordered his cabinet to compile a package of fresh economic support measures that will include help for households coping with higher prices and policies aimed at encouraging companies to boost wages and investment. He’s already extended subsidies to keep a lid on gasoline prices until the end of 2023.
Sentiment among small manufacturers remained gloomy, holding steady at minus 5, while the outlook gauge for this group weakened a tad to minus 2. About two-thirds of Japan’s company employees work at ventures with fewer than 1,000 staff. Whether these companies can raise wages sufficiently to outpace inflation next year will be a key factor in determining the path of monetary policy.
“Business conditions of small and medium-sized enterprises have not improved much compared to large enterprises,” said Shunsuke Kobayashi, chief economist at Mizuho Securities Co. “They are being sucked up by large companies.”
The BOJ has said it needs to see sustainable inflation accompanied by wage gains before it can end its stimulus. The bank’s updates on inflation forecasts are scheduled to be released when the board concludes its next meeting on Oct. 31.
“Even if there’s no move in October, speculation of a move toward normalization will stay the same for subsequent decisions in December and January,” Iwashita said.
(Adds details from report, economist’s comments)