June 3, 2019
By Tetsushi Kajimoto
TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese business investment rose in January-March, continuing the run of growth seen over the past two years although signs of slowing momentum have raised concerns about the strength of business activity amid mounting global economic risks.
Ministry of Finance (MOF) data out on Monday showed capital expenditure grew 6.1% in January-March from the same period last year, led by chemicals, production machinery and leasing of goods. It followed a 5.7% gain in the previous quarter.
Excluding software, capital expenditure rose 1.1% in January-March from the previous quarter on a seasonally-adjusted basis, up for a second straight quarter. But it slowed from the previous quarter’s 3.9% gain.
The data will be used to calculate revised gross domestic product figures due on June 10.
A preliminary estimate out last month showed Japan’s economy grew at an annualized 2.1% in the first quarter as imports fell faster than exports, while business and household spending slipped in a sign of weak domestic demand.
A downward revision could fuel speculation that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may again postpone a twice-delayed sales tax hike scheduled for October, although the premier has repeatedly vowed to go ahead with the hike barring a big economic shock.
Capital expenditure has been a bright spot in the world’s third-largest economy, as companies refurbish their old equipment and boost investment in automation and labor-saving technology to cope with labor shortages in an aging society.
However, business investment has recently shown some signs of slowdown as the intensifying Sino-U.S. trade war and slowing external demand hit global trade and supply chains, hurting Japan’s export-reliant economy.
Economists expect Japan’s growth to slow in the current quarter reflecting weak demand both at home and abroad.
Monday’s MOF data showed corporate recurring profits rose 10.3% in January-March from a year earlier, reversing from the previous quarter’s 7.0% decline.
Corporate sales rose 3.0% year-on-year in January-March, up for a 10th straight quarter.
(Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Sam Holmes)