Japan budget surplus forecast delayed as fiscal reforms struggle

Japan has pushed back its budget surplus forecast twelve months. (Reuters)
Updated 31 July 2019

Japan budget surplus forecast delayed as fiscal reforms struggle

  • Tokyo vows to balance budget by fiscal year 2025/26

TOKYO: Japan pushed back projections on Wednesday for bringing its budget into surplus, in a sign Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government is struggling to rein in massive public debt as the economy comes under increasing pressure.

The government pushed back its forecast of achieving a surplus by one year to 2027, citing a downward revision to its outlook for gross domestic product (GDP) growth, inflation and tax revenue since projections in January.

In its twice-yearly fiscal and economic projections, the government expected the primary budget, excluding new bond sales and debt servicing, to swing to a surplus of 0.2 percent of GDP in 2027.

In its January estimate, the government expected the primary budget balance to swing to a 0.1 percent surplus of gross domestic product in fiscal 2026.

Japan’s debt burden is the industrial world’s heaviest, at more than twice the size of its $5 trillion economy. Abe has put greater importance on growth to safeguard the fragile economy than fiscal reform.

Domestic demand has helped offset weaker exports this year, but a planned sales tax hike in October to 10 percent from 8 percent could curb consumer spending.

Abe voiced his readiness to boost fiscal spending if the tax increase hurts consumption.

“As we aim to achieve our fiscal reform target, we’ll do the utmost to steer economic and fiscal policy appropriately and flexibly,” Abe told government’s top economic council.

“We will respond as appropriate while watching to see any swings in demand after the tax hike, and the most up-to-date economic situation.”

Weak external demand forced the government to lower economic growth forecasts from the January estimate. It now expects real and nominal GDP growth at 2 percent and above 3 percent, respectively, from fiscal 2023, which many private-sector economists see as rosy.

On Monday, the government cut its fiscal 2019 real GDP growth forecast to 0.9 percent from 1.3 percent. In Wednesday’s report, inflation was not forecast to reach 2 percent until 2024, a further setback for the government and the central bank’s aim of meeting the inflation target.

Based on the government’s more conservative :baseline scenario” in which real GDP growth is estimated to hover around 1 percent in the coming years, the primary budget was seen as being in the red through the forecast period to 2028.

A primary budget surplus was originally targeted for 2020, but it has repeatedly been pushed back due to a bulging cost of welfare to support the aging population and fiscal stimulus to pull Japan out of two decades of deflation and stagnation.

The government has now pledged to balance a primary budget by the fiscal year end to March 2026.

This fiscal year’s budget spending reached a record 101.5 trillion yen ($935.05 billion) including 2 trillion yen in steps to ease a pain from a planned sales tax.

Next fiscal year’s budget is also expected to exceed 100 trillion yen for a second straight year, highlighting the difficulty in curbing fiscal spending. It features 4.4 trillion yen in spending for measures to promote Abe’s growth strategy.


Huawei in early talks with US firms to license 5G platform: executive

Updated 19 October 2019

Huawei in early talks with US firms to license 5G platform: executive

  • Currently there are no US 5G providers and European rivals Ericsson and Nokia are generally more expensive
  • Huawei has spent billions to develop its 5G technology since 2009

WASHINGTON: Blacklisted Chinese telecoms equipment giant Huawei is in early-stage talks with some US telecoms companies about licensing its 5G network technology to them, a Huawei executive told Reuters on Friday.
Vincent Pang, senior vice president and board director at the company said some firms had expressed interest in both a long-term deal or a one-off transfer, declining to name or quantify the companies.
“There are some companies talking to us, but it would take a long journey to really finalize everything,” Pang explained on a visit to Washington this week. “They have shown interest,” he added, saying conversations are only a couple of weeks old and not at a detailed level yet.
The US government, fearing Huawei equipment could be used to spy on customers, has led a campaign to convince allies to bar it from their 5G networks. Huawei has repeatedly denied the claim.
Currently there are no US 5G providers and European rivals Ericsson and Nokia are generally more expensive.
In May, Huawei, the world’s largest telecoms equipment provider, was placed on a US blacklist over national security concerns, banning it from buying American-made parts without a special license.
Washington also has brought criminal charges against the company, alleging bank fraud, violations of US sanctions against Iran, and theft of trade secrets, which Huawei denies.
Rules that were due out from the Commerce Department earlier this month are expected to effectively ban the company from the US telecoms supply chain.
The idea of a one-off fee in exchange for access to Huawei’s 5G patents, licenses, code and know-how was first floated by CEO and founder Ren Zhengfei in interviews with the New York Times and the Economist last month. But it was not previously clear whether there was any interest from US companies.
In an interview with Reuters last month, a State Department official expressed skepticism of Ren’s offer.
“It’s just not realistic that carriers would take on this equipment and then manage all of the software and hardware themselves,” the person said. “If there are software bugs that are built in to the initial software, there would be no way to necessarily tell that those are there and they could be activated at any point, even if the software code is turned over to the mobile operators,” the official added.
For his part, Pang declined to predict whether any deal might be signed. However, he warned that the research and development investment required by continuously improving the platform after a single-transfer from Huawei would be very costly for the companies.
Huawei has spent billions to develop its 5G technology since 2009.