May 18, 2022: Japan's economy shrank slightly in the first quarter of 2022, official data showed Wednesday, hit by Covid-19 restrictions and higher prices.
The world's third-largest economy shrank 0.2 percent quarter-on-quarter in the January-March period, slightly less than the market expectations of a 0.4 percent contraction.
It followed a modest rebound in the final three months of 2021 that proved short-lived after Japan put Covid restrictions in place as an outbreak fuelled by the Omicron coronavirus variant took hold in January.
Growth was also hit by the rising cost of imports with energy prices surging and the yen falling to its lowest level against the dollar in 20 years.
Economists expect the economy to recover again in the April-June quarter now that virus restrictions have been lifted, but caution there are some caveats.
"We see three headwinds to this expected recovery," said UBS economists Masamichi Adachi and Go Kurihara in a note ahead of the GDP data release.
"First is a rise in food and energy prices. Second is a drag from the lockdown in China," and third is the risk of a potential resurgence in virus infections, they said.
Others point to ongoing uncertainties linked to "tensions in international relations and military conflicts", according to a survey among economists conducted by the Japan Center for Economic Research.
During the current earnings season, major Japanese firms such as Sony and Nissan have offered cautious forecasts because of the uncertainty, particularly over supply chain disruption and the effect of Covid lockdowns in China.
Wednesday's data showed the economy's rebound in the last quarter of 2021 was 0.9 percent, slightly weaker than an initial estimate of 1.1 percent growth.
Japan is battling a series of economic headwinds linked to the pandemic and Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which has sent energy costs soaring.
The yen has also slumped against the dollar, with a widening gap between Japan's ultra-loose monetary policy and tightening in the United States as the Federal Reserve attempts to combat inflation.
Rising energy prices and other hikes are squeezing Japanese consumers and businesses, with household spending dipping 2.3 percent in March from a year earlier.
Analysts have warned that the pace of nominal wage increases in Japan is unlikely to track rising prices, dampening spending appetites.
Last month, the government unveiled a 6.2 trillion yen (around $48 billion) economic package that included handouts for low-income families to help cushion the impact of rising prices and energy costs.
Looking ahead, "net trade will boost growth over the coming months as supply shortages ease and the weak yen boosts exports and softens demand for imports," Tom Learmouth, Capital Economics economist, said in a note.
"With coronavirus cases continuing to fall and nearly 60 percent of the population triple-jabbed, another round of restrictions looks unlikely for now."
"However, we expect GDP growth to disappoint across 2022 due to the hit to household income from higher inflation and signs that elderly consumers remain wary of catching the virus," he added.
Japan has seen a smaller Covid outbreak than many countries, although cases surged because of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
The country has recorded around 30,050 deaths despite avoiding harsh lockdowns.
May 18, 2022: Due to climate changes, shortage of electricity and diesel, increase in cost of packaging processing and high freight charges, exporters as well mango growers have to face a crisis during the current mango season. Pakistan is facing a 50% drop in mango production this year due to the effects of climate changes and high temperatures.
All Pakistan Fruit and Vegetable Exporters Association (PFVA) has curtailed its export target by 25,000 tons as compared to last year in view of declining mango production during this season and has set an export target of 125,000 tonnes for the current mango season. Meeting this new target, Pakistan will fetch valuable foreign exchange of $106 million.
According to Waheed Ahmed, Patron-in-Chief of PFVA, due to climatic effects and high temperature, mango production has been severely affected during this mango season. The average production of mango in Pakistan is 1.8 million tons and with 50% reduction, it is likely to be limited to 0.9 million tons.
During the current mango season, the mid of March witnessed average temperature between 37-42 ? while the average temperature during the previous season was recorded as 34 ?. The sudden rise in temperature has severely damaged mango production while irrigation problems, water shortage due to blockage of canals, power load shedding and shortage of diesel during the season have further deepened the climatic effects – Waheed Ahmed disclosed.
Expressing serious concern, Waheed Ahmed further shared that, the mango production and export during the current season are facing stiff challenges in the history of mango seasons. Depreciation of rupees, rising labour costs along with high tariff of electricity and gas have significantly multiplied the cost of processing mangoes. Packaging material has also gone up by 30% since last season, making it quite difficult for mango exporters to compete in the international market.
Exorbitant increase in sea freight has played a significant role in making competition stiff for Pakistani mangoes. Last year, sea freight for the Gulf and Dubai were USD 1,900 per container, but this year the cost of sea freight has risen USD 2,800 to 3000 dollars it is feared that with simultaneous increase in air freight charges, the transportation cost of mangoes would also be substantially enhanced.
In case of rain, storms and strong winds along with climatic effects, losses of mango crop may further increase in the coming months, leading to severe negative impact on exports. Waheed Ahmed urged the Government to extend financial assistance to the mango growers and exporters so that their losses could be compensated.
Waheed Ahmed voiced that the Govt. shall extend 20% subsidy in sea and air freight, reduction in PIA freight charges to curtail the cost of export and facilitate competition in the international market for Pakistani mangoes.
According to Waheed Ahmed, in order to attain the export target of this most difficult season of mango, it is imperative that the concerned government departments and authorities including airport and seaport authorities, customs, plant production department and other concerned organizations shall render all possible assistance and cooperation to ensure that maximum foreign exchange can be earned during the current critical economic situation of Pakistan.
May 18, 2022: Global equity markets rallied and Treasury yields rose on Tuesday, as solid U.S. retail sales in April suggested economic growth might strengthen, as did an easing of China's lockdowns to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
U.S. retail sales rose 0.9% last month while data for March was revised higher to show sales advancing 1.4% instead of 0.7% as previously reported, the Commerce Department said.
The data show U.S. consumers weathering inflationary headwinds as sales gained for the fourth consecutive month, said Jeffrey Roach, chief economist for LPL Financial. Sales are nominal, so much of the increase is from higher prices, he said.
"We expect a rebound in economic growth in Q2," Roach said in an email if prices moderate enough to relieve some of the pressure on consumers.
U.S. and European stocks rallied following gains overnight in Asia. MSCI's gauge of stocks across the globe closed up 2.0%. The pan-European STOXX 600 index rose 1.22%.
On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 1.28%, the S&P 500 gained 1.89% and the Nasdaq Composite advanced 2.57%. Growth stocks rose 2.48% while value shares gained 1.60%. [.N/C]
The gains were a rebound from overselling last week, said Anthony Saglimbeni, global market strategist at Ameriprise Financial, citing the sixth straight weekly loss for the Nasdaq and S&P 500.
"There's this battle in the stock market between what breaks first: inflation or the consumer. The stock market is betting that the consumer is going to break and credit markets are betting that inflation is going to break first," he said.
"The stock market is getting close to overcorrecting and pricing in the probability of a recession that I think is just too high," Saglimbene said.
Data also showed industrial production rose 1.1% in April, with the manufacturing capacity utilization rate at its highest since 2007. The sector is running too hot and needs to slow for inflation to get under control, said Bill Adams, chief economist for Comerica Bank.
The Federal Reserve will raise the federal funds rate half a percentage point at each of its next two policy meetings to throw some sand in the economy's gears, Adams said in an email.
The U.S. central bank will "keep pushing" to tighten U.S. monetary policy until it is clear inflation is declining, Fed chair Jerome Powell said at a Wall Street Journal event.
"What we need to see is inflation coming down in a clear and convincing way," he said. "If we don't see that, we will have to consider moving more aggressively" to tighten financial conditions.
The Fed is behind the curve and trying to play catch up, said Brian Ward, chief executive of Broadmark Realty Capital Inc.
"We are trying to address a very complex set of facts with a very blunt instrument via monetary policy and I think that it's not going to turn out well," Ward said.
The yield on 10-year Treasury notes rose 10.7 basis points to 2.986%.
The dollar eased for a third straight day, pulling back from a two-decade high against a basket of major peers, as an uptick in risk appetite cut the greenback's safe-haven appeal.
The dollar index fell 0.787%, with the euro up 1.07% to $1.0543. Japan's yen weakened 0.14% to 129.36 per dollar.
Fears remain about the strength of the world's two largest economies after weak retail and factory figures in China and some disappointing U.S. manufacturing data.
An index compiled by U.S. bank Citi that monitors whether economic data comes in better or worse than economists had been expecting is back in negative territory.