The Bank of Japan’s money printing binge has pushed down the yen and is diluting it so fast that even the Fed is getting watery eyes. Japanese stocks soared at stunning speed, until the hot air hissed out of them, before they re-soared. Perhaps the illusory “wealth effect” that the BOJ keeps conjuring up caused a brief spurt in GDP – of 4.1% annualized in the January-March quarter and 3.8% in the April-June quarter. But in the July-September quarter, it tapered off to 1.9%.
Inflation is up, wages are not. Consumers are getting even gloomier. The consumption tax hike, to kick in on April 1, has triggered widespread front-loading of purchases of big-ticket items by companies and consumers alike. It will leave a deep hole next spring and further down the line. Japan has been there before. Meanwhile, the government simply refuses – just like those before it – to do something about Japan’s gargantuan deficit where about half of every yen the government spends is borrowed.
But the beneficiaries of Abenomics are now coming out of the woodwork.
The 1,280 largest publicly traded Japanese companies, excluding financial firms, reported outright glorious earnings. Their combined net income doubled to ¥5.5 trillion ($55 billion), from ¥2.25 trillion last year, according to a Bloomberg report. Translating earnings from operations overseas into weaker yen beautified the results of many companies. But there was more to it.
Sharp has been implementing a multi-year restructuring plan of drastic cost cuts, selling assets, and shuttering facilities; it reported its first net income since 2011. Deeply troubled Panasonic has cut 71,000 jobs since 2011. It’s cutting, dumping, and shedding. It’s even shutting down its erstwhile crown jewel, plasma TV production. In October, it hiked its projection for this year’s net income to ¥100 billion.
Japan Tobacco, former state-owned monopoly and now Asia’s largest listed tobacco company, announced that it would shut four plants and cut 1,600 jobs in Japan to goose its bottom line. In the last quarter, net income soared 65%.
Japan’s largest manufacturer, Toyota, announced in May that it would limit its capital expenditures for fiscal 2014 to ¥910 billion, or about 60% of its 2008 budget. It would freeze construction of plants for three years to minimize capital expenditures at home and prepare for growing demand overseas – “to be strategic in our investments,” as Executive VP Nobuyori Kodaira said at the time. So, profit in the last quarter jumped 70% to ¥438 billion.
Mazda, heavily dependent on exports, had lost money for four years in a row. Then it started chopping workers, offshoring production to Mexico, and entering into joint production agreements with other automakers, including Fiat. Now it expects profits for the year to nearly triple from what it made in 2012.
Cutting costs at home, offshoring production, restructuring operations, shuttering plants, reducing the workforce, halting plant construction…. These companies are cutting back in Japan, instead of investing in Japan.
Exceptions are coming under withering fire. Sony, Japan’s largest electronics exporter, is still losing money because it has apparently dragged its feet in shuttering operations, cutting jobs, and dumping assets, such as its movie unit – a “bloated corporate structure,” according to Daniel Loeb, a major shareholder.
What these beneficiaries of Abenomics are not doing, or not doing enough of, is investing in the real economy in Japan. But many of them are investing overseas! And they’re hording cash – total cash of all companies on the Topix, on a per-share basis, is up 49% from last year.
One of the big victims is trade – a critical element of Abenomics. Cost cutting at home and offshoring production to locations overseas are largely responsible for the ballooning trade deficit. While exports are rising in terms of a weakened yen, they’re declining in volume. And imports have jumped. Not energy imports – they actually dropped – but imports of manufactured products. A fundamental shift.
In this manner, Japan Inc. has made its intentions clear: it’s diversifying away from Japan; and to heck with the real economy there.
Then there’s TEPCO, the utility that serves 29 million households and businesses in the Tokyo metropolitan area, and that owns the Fukushima nuclear power plant where three melted-down reactors are contaminating air, soil, groundwater, and seawater, an outfit famous for its lackadaisical handling of the fiasco and the parsimoniousness with which it doles out the truth – the most despised and ridiculed company in Japan, and it reported earnings too. What a doozie! Read….Japan’s Most Hated Outfit, TEPCO, Reports Fat Profit (From Taxpayer Bailout Money)