There’s a difference between bad economic news and the devastating variety that Japan received Monday. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe might have been able to weather the second-quarter data showing a drop in Japanese consumption and a 1.6 percent decline in annualized growth. But it’s not clear his government can recover from the latest news about sputtering exports, which fell 4.4 percent from the previous quarter.
An export boom, after all, was the main thing Abenomics, the prime minister’s much-heralded revival program, had going for it. The yen’s 35 percent drop since late 2012 made Japanese goods cheaper, companies more profitable and Nikkei stocks more attractive. But China is spoiling the broader strategy. The economy of Japan’s biggest customer is slowing precipitously, which has imperiled earnings outlooks for Toyota, Sony, and trading houses like Mitsui.
But Abe needs to recognize, as China already has, that this is only the latest sign of a broader reality: Asia’s old export model of economic growth no longer works.
China’s devaluation last week raised fears of a return of the currency wars that devastated Asia in the late 1990s. That’s a reach, considering that exports are playing less and less of a role in China. McKinsey, for example, found that as far back as 2010, net exports were contributing only between 10 percent and 20 percent of Chinese gross domestic product. The services sector is growing in size and influence to rebalance the economy – not fast enough, perhaps, but change is nevertheless afoot.
This post was published at David Stockmans Contra Corner on August 18, 2015.