March 13, 2020 / 6:06 AM / 24 days ago

Japan's exports, machinery orders seen down, virus heightens recession risk - Reuters poll

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s exports likely fell for a 15th straight month and machinery orders were seen down again, a Reuters poll found on Friday, amid mounting fears the coronavirus outbreak is tipping the economy into recession.

FILE PHOTO: A laborer works in a container area at a port in Tokyo, Japan, March 16, 2016. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

The government must take “bold and unprecedented” steps to beat the economic fallout from the virus, a key minister said on Friday, suggesting large-scale fiscal stimulus is in the works in addition to steps expected next week from the Bank of Japan.

Exports are forecast to have fallen 4.3% in February from a year earlier, after a 2.6% decline in January, the poll of 16 economists found.

Imports are expected to have dropped 14.4%, resulting in a trade surplus of 917.2 billion yen (6.9 billion pounds), the poll showed, after a 1.3 trillion yen of deficit in January.

China, Japan’s largest trading partner, suffered massive economic disruptions as the virus spread last month, and analysts say factories there may not return to normal until April. Meanwhile, the rapid spread of the disease in other parts of the world is threatening to sharply curb demand globally.

“Falls in global factory output, and stagnation of movements of people and goods will further push down the global and the Japanese economies, thus weighing on the nation’s exports and imports further,” said Kenta Maruyama, economist at Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting.

Core machinery orders, a highly volatile data series regarded as an indicator of capital spending in the coming six to nine months, likely fell 1.6% in January from the previous month, slower pace of decline from a 12.5% drop in December, the poll showed.

From a year earlier, the core machinery orders were seen down 0.5% in January after a 3.5% fall in December, it found.

“Impacts from the coronavirus on the machinery orders in January were likely limited but firms kept their cautious stance on business spending due to the outlook uncertainty,” said Takumi Tsunoda, senior economist at Shinkin Central Bank Research Institute.

The government will release machinery orders at 8:50 a.m. Japan time on Monday (2350 GMT on Sunday) and the finance ministry will release trade data on Wednesday.

Economists in the poll forecast the Bank of Japan will keep its minus 0.1% interest rates and maintain the 10-year Japanese government bond yield target at around 0% when it holds a policy meeting on March 18-19.

While there is no consensus yet on what steps the BOJ should take next week, increasing the size of its exchange-traded fund (ETF) purchases is among the most likely options, the sources have told Reuters.

The poll also showed the core consumer price index (CPI), which includes oil products but excludes volatile fresh food costs, rose 0.6% in February from a year earlier from a 0.8% gain in January after energy price gains slowed.

Analysts say core CPI will weaken further after a plunge in oil prices this week. The government will release the CPI data on Thursday.

February tourism data is expected to be announced on Wednesday.

Japan’s economy shrank more than initially estimated in the fourth quarter and many analysts now expect it to contract again in the current quarter, with two consecutive declines meeting the technical definition of a recession.

Reporting by Kaori Kaneko; Editing by Kim Coghill

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