March 12th, 2009
02:40 AM GMT
TOKYO, Japan - "Hey, that's not so bad!" That's what news bulletins reported across Japan this morning as Japan's government released its fourth quarter gross domestic product (GDP) figures. The economy still shrank at the worst rate since the 1970s oil crisis - but again, not at the rate initially estimated. When "not so bad" sounds like good news, you know times are tough.
But this is one report, and one that will surely be followed up with another next week, maybe showing more gloom than silver lining.
As far as today's report, Japan's cabinet office says the annualized GDP shrank 12.1 percent versus the initial 12.7 percent estimate. Quarter to quarter, the economy shrank 3.2 percent, a little better than the expected 3.3 percent.
Japan's export-driven economy has been particularly hard hit in the global economic slowdown, as consumers in the United States and Europe lose their taste for Japan's cars and electronics. Companies such as Toyota and Sony have dramatically slashed production, trying to bring inventories in line with demand. That inventory build, according to economist John Vail of Nikko Asset Management, is one reason the GDP revision is a little better than initially estimated, and that the next quarter may show a deeper contraction when the inventory build falls.
"I wouldn't get too excited about the difference between 12 (percent) or 13 percent," says Vail, who points out GDP numbers are highly subject to revision. "Right now we're in a unique situation: falling demand and destocking. It's a double whammy. As soon as destocking is over, we'll have some stabilization or improvement in production in manufactured goods. We're probably in the period of maximum decline and things will improve going forward once the destocking is completed."
Bottom line: don't get too worried about every single report. Economists urge you to look at the bigger picture, which currently in Japan shows a mixed bag of possible recovery or deepening recession, depending on how world leaders move forward with stimulus packages and reform. This global crisis isn't as simple as one cause, one quick fix or one single GDP report.
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