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Japan announces fresh stimulus measures
Source: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/
Source Date: Monday, August 30, 2010
Focus: Electronic and Mobile Government, ICT for MDGs, Thematic Website, Knowledge Management in Government, Citizen Engagement
Country: Japan
Created: Aug 30, 2010

TOKYO - Japan on Monday unveiled an 11-billion-US-dollar stimulus and announced monetary steps to safeguard a fragile economy and curb the impact of a strong yen, but markets were left unimpressed.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan announced the 920-billion-yen stimulus package and the central bank extended a multi-billion-dollar loan scheme in a bid to boost an economy beset by deflation and curb the strength of the yen.

Kan said the plan will include steps to boost employment for graduates, investment in green industries and support for smaller businesses and measures to boost consumption, adding it would get final approval on September 10.

The stimulus package would be financed by reserve funds, but Kan added that the government would consider compiling an additional budget if necessary.

The announcement followed an emergency meeting by the Bank of Japan in response to recent government pressure to counter the strong yen. But the unit moved higher after the bank unveiled its plans, with markets underwhelmed.

In its second loan expansion since March, the bank said it would offer 10 trillion yen (118 billion US dollars) in six-month low interest loans in addition to 20 trillion yen from December's three-month loan scheme.

Domestic banks will be able to borrow a total of 30 trillion yen from the central bank for maximum of six months against pooled collateral, at the rate of 0.1 percent.

The move would help lower interest rates in the market place with a view to easing the yen's strength, said the bank, which left its key rate unchanged at 0.1 percent.

"The bank believes that the monetary easing measure, together with the government's efforts, will be effective in further ensuring Japan's economic recovery," it said.

However, markets took a dim view of the widely expected BoJ steps, with the yen strengthening to below 85 against the dollar and the Nikkei index paring back earlier three percent gains to close up 1.76 percent.

With investors having anticipated the announced steps, which took place on a day major forex centre London was closed for a public holiday, the impact of the decision will be "close to zero," said Macquarie Bank's Richard Jerram.

"It's largely a charade," he said.

The strong yen, which last week hit 15-year highs against the dollar, threatens the overseas profits of Japan's export sector, crucial to driving growth while making imports cheaper and prolonging a deflationary cycle.

A recent government survey suggested that many companies in Japan were considering moving production overseas if the yen stayed high.

Analysts say the BoJ, which has kept rates at 0.1 percent since the height of the financial crisis, has little room to move. Despite low rates, years of stagnation sapped demand for loans from companies and consumers.

"The latest measures serve little to boost the economy as there is no demand to borrow money amid such currently bad business sentiment," said Yoshikiyo Shimamine, chief economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.

And with the United States and Europe seemingly happy to reap the trade benefits of their weaker currencies, analysts say any unilateral currency move by Japan would be unlikely, and at best ineffective.

It last intervened in forex markets in 2004.

The country remains under pressure to protect its fragile recovery, with weak gross domestic product growth of an annualised 0.4 percent in the second quarter pointing to a slowdown.

Core consumer prices eased 1.1 percent in July, the 17th consecutive monthly fall, casting a darker shadow over the government's goal of ending deflation in the fiscal year starting April 2011.

Persistent deflation prompts consumers to defer purchases in the hope of further price falls and deters corporate capital spending.

Fears for the health of the global economy have increased in recent weeks, and US Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke on Friday vowed to act if "unexpected developments" further threaten the shaky US recovery.
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