Japan exports to US fall, business mood sours amid fears of trade war

Exports to the US dipped 0.9 percent in June from the same period a year ago on waning shipments of cars and semiconductor manufacturing equipment. (Reuters)
Updated 19 July 2018
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Japan exports to US fall, business mood sours amid fears of trade war

  • Exports to the US dipped 0.9 percent in June from the same period a year ago on waning shipments of cars and semiconductor manufacturing equipment
  • The batch of data highlighted concerns among Japanese policymakers who worry Trump may resort to tariffs or other protectionist measures to fix trade imbalances with Japan

TOKYO: Japan’s exports to the US fell for the first time in 17 months and Japanese business sentiment soured amid worries about US President Donald Trump’s protectionist trade policies.
Exports to the US dipped 0.9 percent in June from the same period a year ago on waning shipments of cars and semiconductor manufacturing equipment, two of Japan’s most important export products.
Thursday’s trade data came on the heels of the Reuters Tankan, which showed business sentiment slipped in July, reflecting companies’ fears about an intensifying trade dispute between the US and China.
The batch of data highlighted concerns among Japanese policymakers who worry Trump may resort to tariffs or other protectionist measures to fix trade imbalances with Japan under his “America first” policy.
With American imports down 2.1 percent, Japan’s trade surplus with the US widened 0.5 percent year-on-year to ¥590.3 billion ($5.24 billion). That could make it a potential target for Trump’s protectionist policies.
Japan’s global exports rose 6.7 percent in June, while imports gained 2.5 percent.
“Overall exports remain healthy for now, but we are not sure how things are going to turn out on the trade policy front,” said Shuji Tonouchi, senior market economist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities. “It’ possible talk of tariffs and trade friction could reduce corporate investment.”
The Reuters Tankan, which tracks the Bank of Japan’s closely watched quarterly tankan survey, found manufacturers’ sentiment index stood at 25 in July, down one point from June, and the service sector’s mood fell to 34 from 35 in the prior month.
The index subtracts the percentage of companies that feel negative about the economy from those who are optimistic, so a positive number means more businesses are upbeat.
Concerns about protectionism were widely cited in the Reuters poll of 483 large- and mid-sized companies, of which 268 responded between July 2-13, particularly among exporters of cars, precision machinery and metal products.
The US this month imposed 25 percent tariffs on $34 billion of Chinese goods to lower the US trade deficit, and China quickly retaliated with an increase in tariffs on US goods.
“Our clients are increasingly taking a wait-and-see stance on capital expenditure in the face of uncertainty over trade friction between the US and China and the EU,” a manager of a machinery maker wrote in the survey.
“Uncertainty is rising over capital spending plans at our client firms due to the expansion of protectionist policies and geopolitical risks,” said another machinery maker.
The manufacturers’ index is seen rising to 29 in October, while the service-sector index is expected to hold steady, after July’s decline led by real estate/construction firms.
The BOJ’s tankan showed earlier this month that big manufacturers’ mood soured for a second straight quarter in the three months to June, hurt by rising input costs and as US trade protectionism clouds the outlook for Japan’s export-dependent economy.
Still, the mood among non-manufacturers improved slightly and big firms’ solid capital spending plans offered some relief.


BMW picks insider Zipse as CEO to catch up with rivals

Oliver Zipse
Updated 19 July 2019
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BMW picks insider Zipse as CEO to catch up with rivals

  • German giant has lost ground to Mercedes-Benz and Tesla as tech steps up

FRANKFURT: BMW has named Oliver Zipse as its new CEO, continuing the German carmaker’s tradition of promoting production chiefs to the top job even as the auto industry expands into new areas such as technology and services.
Hailing Zipse’s “decisive” leadership style, BMW hopes the 55-year-old can help it win back its edge in electric cars and the premium market  from rival Mercedes-Benz.
But some analysts questioned whether Zipse was the right choice with new fields such as software and services like car-sharing becoming increasingly important.
“What is intriguing is the cultural bias to appoint the head of production. It works sometimes but ... being good at building cars is not a defining edge the way it was 20 years ago,” said Jefferies analyst Philippe Houchois.
Current CEO Harald Krueger, and former chiefs Norbert Reithofer, Bernd Pischetsrieder and Joachim Milberg were all former production heads.
Zipse joined BMW as a trainee in 1991 and served as head of brand and product strategies and boss of BMW’s Oxford plant in England before joining the board.
He will become chief executive on Aug. 16, taking over from Krueger who said he would not be available for a second term.
“With Oliver Zipse, a decisive strategic and analytical leader will assume the Chair of the Board of Management of BMW. He will provide fresh momentum in shaping  the future,” said Reithofer.
Zipse helped expand BMW’s efficient production network in Hungary, China and the US, in a move that delivered industry-leading profit margins.
Under Krueger, BMW was overtaken in 2016 by Mercedes-Benz as the best-selling luxury car brand.
It also had an early lead over US  rival Tesla in electric cars, but scaled back ambitions after its i3 model failed to sell large numbers.
Reithofer initially championed Krueger’s low-key consensus-seeking leadership, but pressured him to roll out electric vehicles more aggressively, forcing Krueger to skip the Paris Motor Show in 2016 to reevaluate BMW’s electric strategy.
Krueger’s reluctance to push low-margin electric vehicles led to an exodus of talented electric vehicle experts, including Christian Senger, now Volkswagen’s (VW) board member responsible for software, and Audi’s Markus Duesmann, who is seen as a future CEO of the company.
Both were poached by VW CEO Herbert Diess, a former BMW board member responsible for research who was himself passed over for BMW’s top job in 2015.
VW has since pushed a radical 80 billion euro ($90 billion) electric car mass production strategy, and a sweeping alliance with Ford.

Other skills
“A CEO needs to have an idea for how mobility will evolve in the future. This goes far beyond optimising an existing business,” said Carsten Breitfeld, chief executive of China-based ICONIQ motors, and former BMW engineer. “He needs to build teams, attract talent, and promote a culture oriented along consumer electronics and internet dynamics.”
German manufacturers have dominated the high-performance market for decades, but analysts warn shifts towards sophisticated technology and software is opening the door to new challengers.
“Tesla has a lead of three to four years in areas like software and electronics. There is a risk that the Germans can’t catch up,” UBS analyst Patrick Hummel said.
Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport car magazine, normally quick to champion German manufacturers, this week ran a cover questioning BMW’s future.
“Production expertise is important, but if you want to avoid ending up being a hardware provider for Google or Apple, you need to have the ability to move up the food chain into data and software,” a former BMW board member said.