Japan and Korea have chosen a bad time to fire up their own trade war

This is a story influenced by a brewing trade war but not the one that you might think. It is between Japan and Korea and the latest phase started in July when Japan imposed restrictions on trade with Korea for 3 chemicals. This gets more significant when you realise that they are crucial for smartphones ( displays on particular) and that according to CNBC Japan is responsible for 90% of the world’s supply of them. This affects quite of bit of Korean industry with Samsung being the headliner. Them Japan dropped Korea from its whitelist of trusted trading partners making trade more difficult before Korea did the same.

According to Bloomberg Citigroup have tried to downplay this today but I note these bits of it.

Meanwhile, boycotts in South Korea have led to a plunge in sales of Japanese consumer goods and a decrease in tourists to Japan, who may have decided to travel domestically instead, according to Citi………Last month, South Korean exports to Japan fell 14 percent, while imports from Japan slid 23 percent. South Korea’s trade ministry attributed the declines to industrial factors rather than trade actions.

Ah an official denial! We know what that means.

The issue has deep roots in the past and the Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula a century ago as well as its later use of Korean “comfort women.” That explains the Korean issue with Japan and on the other side the Japanese consider themselves superior to Koreans and in my time there were quite open about it. Whilst he initially made moves to calm the situation there was always going to be an issue with a nationalistic politician like  Shinzo Abe running Japan.But let us move on noting that both countries will be experiencing an economic brake.

Japan Economic Growth

Let me hand you over to The Japan Times which gives us the position and some perspective.

In the third quarter the world’s third-largest economy grew an annualized 0.2 percent, slowing sharply from a revised 1.8 percent expansion in April to June, according to preliminary gross domestic product data released by the government Thursday.

It fell well short of a median market forecast for a 0.8 percent gain, and marked the weakest growth since a 2.0 percent contraction in the July-September period last year.

So over the past six months Japan has grown by 0.5% and we also get an idea of the erratic nature of economic growth there.This is partly due to the way that Japan does not conform to stereotype as it has struggled more than elsewhere to measure GDP. Partly due to last year’s third quarter drop. annual growth has picked up to 1.3% but that looks like being the peak.

Why? Well the 0.2% growth was driven by a 0.9% rise in domestic demand ( both numbers are annualised) just in time for the consumption tax to be raised. Actually private consumption was up 1.4% in the quarter suggesting that purchases were being made ahead of the rise.

At the end of last month this was reinforced by this.

The Consumer Confidence Index (seasonally adjusted series) in October 2019 was 36.2, up 0.6 points from the previous month.

Yes it was up but you see the number had fallen from around 44 at the opening of 2018 and these are the lowest readings since 2011.

Korea Economic Growth

Real gross domestic product (chained volume measure of GDP) grew by 0.4 percent in the third quarter of 2019 compared to the previous quarter……Real GDP (chained volume measure of GDP) increased by 2.0 percent year on
year in the third quarter of 2019.

In a broad sweep this means that economic growth has been slowing as it was 3.2% in 2017 and 2.7% in 2018. Rather unusually Korea saw strong export growth especially of we look at what was exported.

Exports increased by 4.1 percent, as exports of goods such as motor vehicles and semiconductors expanded. Imports were up by 0.9 percent, owing to increased imports of transportation equipment.

Also manufacturing grew.

Manufacturing rose by 2.1 percent, mainly due to an increase in computer, electronic and optical products.

However the economy has been slowing and if either of those reverse will slow even more quickly. Back on the 18th of October we noted this response.

The Monetary Policy Board of the Bank of Korea decided today to lower the Base Rate by 25 basis points, from 1.50% to 1.25%.

This was more of an external rather than an internal move as last week we learnt this.

During September 2019 Narrow Money (M1, seasonally adjusted, period-average) increased by 0.6% compared to the previous month.

So whilst it had been weak as annual growth was 3.3% in June it has risen since to 5% which is slightly above the average for 2018.

However they could cut on inflation grounds as this from Korea Statistics shows.

The Consumer Price Index was 105.46(2015=100) in October 2019. The index increased 0.2 percent from the preceding  month and was unchanged from the same month of the previous year.

According to the Bank of Korea the outlook is for more of the same.

 The Producer Price Index increased by 0.1% month-on-month in September 2019 – in year-on-year terms it decreased by 0.7%.

Exchange Rate

This is at 10.68 Won to the Yen as I type this and is up over 7% over the past year. So an additional factor in the situation will be that the Korean’s have been winning the currency war. This of course, will be annoying for Shinzo Abe who’s Abenomics programme set out to weaker the Japanese Yen. As we stand Korea has an official interest-rate some 1.35% higher so there is not a lot the Bank of Japan can do about this.

Comment

As we stand it initially looks as if Korea will be the relative winner here.

“Domestic demand had made up for some of the weakness in external demand, but we can’t count on this to continue,” said Taro Saito, executive research fellow at NLI Research Institute.

“A contraction in October-December GDP is a done deal. The economy may rebound early next year, but will lack momentum.” ( Japan Times)

But the argument it is in a stronger position weakens somewhat if we switch to its Gross National Income.

Real gross domestic income (GDI) increased by 0.1 percent compared to the previous quarter.

Over the past year it has gone on a quarterly basis -0.3%,0.2%,-0.7% and now 0.1%.

Korea is looking to use fiscal policy to stimulate its economy which sets it in the opposite direction to the consumption tax rise in Japan. But as they use a time of trouble to posture and scrap let us look at something that they share.

Korea’s potential output growth is expected to fall further in the long term, as the productive population declines in line with population aging and the low fertility rate……In addition, it is necessary to slow down the decline in labor supply resulting from population aging and the low birth rate, through policy efforts including encouraging women and young people to participate in economic activities and coping actively with the low birth rate. ( Bank of Korea Working Paper )

I wonder what the latter bit really means?

Meanwhile this is the last thing Japan needs right now.

(Reuters) – Japan’s Nissan Motor Co Ltd (7201.T) has said it is recalling 394,025 cars in the United States over a braking system defect, causing concerns that a brake fluid leak could potentially lead to a fire.

Podcast

 

 

There are major problems brewing in the Pacific for the world economy

It has been something of an economic tenet for a while now that the most dynamic part of the world economy is to be found in the Pacific region. However the credit crunch era has thrown up all sorts of challenges to what were established ideas and it is doing so again right now. The particular issue is what was supposed to be a strength which is trade and we saw another worrying sign on Wednesday.

The Monetary Policy Board of the Bank of Korea decided today to lower the Base Rate by 25 basis points, from 1.50% to 1.25%.

That is South Korea as we continue our journey past 750 interest-rate cuts in the credit crunch era. Here is their answer to Carly Simon’s famous question, why?

Economic growth in Korea has continued to slow. Private consumption has slowed somewhat, while investment has remained weak. Exports have sustained their sluggish trend as the export prices of semiconductors, petroleum products and chemicals have continued to fall amid the weakening of global trade.

So we see that the economy has been hit by trade issues and that unsurprisingly this has hit investment but also that it has fed through into domestic consumption. Next we got further confirmation that they are blaming trade as we wonder what is Korean for Johnny Foreigner?

Affected mainly by worsening global economic conditions, the growth of the Korean economy is expected to fall back below the July projection…….. The downside risks include a spread of  global trade disputes, a heightening of geopolitical risks and a deepening global
economic slowdown.

We also see that the Korean government has already acted.

Among the upside risks to the growth outlook are an improvement in domestic demand thanks to a strengthening of government policies to shore up the economy and progress in US-China trade negotiations.

 

Quarterly economic growth has been erratic so far this year but Xinhuanet gives us an idea of the trend.

From a year earlier, the real GDP grew 2 percent in the second quarter. It was lower than an increase of 2.8 percent for the same quarter of 2017 and a growth of 2.9 percent for the same quarter of 2018.

Singapore

On the one hand the outlook is supposed to be bright.

Singapore has knocked the United States out of the top spot in the World Economic Forum’s annual competitiveness report. The index, published on Wednesday, takes stock of an economy’s competitive landscape, measuring factors such as macroeconomic stability, infrastructure, the labor market and innovation capability. ( CNN )

The good cheer was not repeated in this from the Monetary Authority of Singapore on Monday.

According to the Advance Estimates released by the Ministry of Trade and Industry today, the Singapore economy grew by 0.1% year-on-year in Q3 2019, similar to the preceding quarter. In the last six months, the drag on GDP growth exerted by the manufacturing sector has intensified, reflecting the ongoing downturn in the global electronics cycle as well as the pullback in investment spending, caused in part by the uncertainty in US-China relations.

They are very sharp with the GDP number perhaps helped by being a City state. The future does not look too bright either if we look through the rhetoric.

On the whole, Singapore’s GDP growth is projected to come in at around the mid-point of the 0–1% forecast range in 2019 and improve modestly in 2020.

The Straits Times has fone a heroic job trying to make the data below look positive.

Non-oil domestic exports (Nodx) fell by 8.1 per cent in September, a somewhat better showing than the 9 percent fall in August, according to data released by Enterprise Singapore on Thursday (Oct 17).

This was the third month in a row where shipments improved, and the August figure – revised downwards from the 8.9 per cent fall previously reported – also marked a return to single-digit territory after five consecutive months of double-digit declines.

But many eyes will have turned to this bit.

Electronics products weighed down Nodx, shrinking 24.8 per cent year-on-year in September, following a 25.9 per cent contraction in August.

China

This morning has brought the news we were pretty much expecting.

China’s economic growth slowed in the third quarter amid weak demand at home and as the trade war with the U.S. drags on exports.

Gross domestic product rose 6% in the July-September period from a year ago, the slowest pace since the early 1990s and weaker than the consensus forecast of 6.1%. Factory output rose 5.8% in September, retail sales expanded 7.8%, while investment gained 5.4% in the first nine months of the year. ( Bloomberg ).

Back on the 21st of January I pointed out this.

The M1 money supply statistics show us that growth was a mere 1.5% over 2018 which is a lot lower than the other economic numbers coming out of China and meaning that we can expect more slowing in the early part of 2019. No wonder we have seen some policy easing and I would not be surprised if there was more of it.

The numbers have been slipping away ever since although Bloomberg tries to put a brave face on it. After all you fo not want to upset the Chinese as you might find yourself like the NBA.

Even with the slowdown, year to date growth of 6.2% suggests the government can hit its 6% and 6.5% for 2019.

Actually M1 money supply growth picked up after January to as high as 4.4% but has now fallen back to 3.4%. So the easing has helped and we are not looking at an “end of the world as we know it” scenario in domestic terms but rather caution.

Before I move on let me point out the consequences of the African swine fever outbreak in the pig industry.

Of which, livestock meat price up by 46.9 percent, affecting nearly 2.03 percentage points increase in the CPI (price of pork was up by 69.3 percent, affecting nearly 1.65 percentage points increase in the CPI), poultry meat up by 14.7 percent, affecting nearly 0.18 percentage point increase in the CPI. ( China Bureau of Statistics )

Japan

Overnight the Cabinet Office has informed us that the Bank of Japan is getting ever further away from its inflation target.

  The consumer price index for Japan in September 2019 was 101.9 (2015=100), up 0.2% over the year before seasonal adjustment, and the same level as  the previous month on a seasonally adjusted basis.

They will of course torture the numbers to find any flicker so if you here about furniture and household utensils ( up 2.7%) that will be why.

Next month the issue will be solved by the Consumption Tax rise but of course that takes money out of workers and consumers pockets at a time of economic trouble. What could go wrong?

Comment

As you can see there are plenty of signs of economic trouble in the Pacific region. Many of these countries are used to much higher rates of economic growth than us in the west. According to Bloomberg Indonesia is worried too.

Indonesia‘s central bank has room to cut interest rates further, perhaps as soon as next week, says its deputy governor

Then of course there is the Reserve Bank of Australia which is cutting interest-rates at a rapid rate. In fact Deputy Governor Debelle gave a speech in Sydney updating us on his priority.

The housing market has a pervasive impact on the Australian economy. It is the popular topic of any number of conversations around barbeques and dinner tables. It generates reams of newspaper stories and reality TV shows. You could be forgiven for thinking that the housing market is the Australian economy.[1] That clearly is not the case. But at the same time, developments in the housing market, both the established market and housing construction, have a broader impact than the simple numbers would suggest.