Japan capex growth weakens with companies wary about China slowdown

By Tetsushi Kajimoto

TOKYO (Reuters) -Japanese companies increased spending on plants and equipment in April-June but the pace of annual gain was the lowest in five quarters, reflecting concern about a slowing growth in China and the health of the global economy.

Capital expenditures climbed 4.5% from a year earlier and fell 1.2% on a seasonally adjusted quarterly basis, finance ministry data showed.

China, the largest trading partner for export-reliant Japan, has only managed a sputtering economic recovery since re-opening its borders and in more recent months has been grappling with a worsening crisis in its property sector.

At the same time, sharp interest rate hikes and surging inflation in the U.S. and Europe threaten to stymie demand for Japanese goods.

“Japanese firms are cautious given that the Chinese property bubble has been bursting in some regional cities. If that spreads to bigger cities, that will cool demand for China-bound shipments and capex,” said Takeshi Minami, chief economist at Norinchukin Research Institute.

“The worst could be yet to come. If Europe and America, which have held firm so far, cave to inflation pressure, that would further sap Japanese corporate appetite for investment.”

The capex data will be used to calculate revised gross domestic product figures due on Sept. 8. Given the quarterly decline in capital investment, the annualised second-quarter GDP growth rate will probably be revised down by around 1% point, Minami said.

On a preliminary basis, Japan’s economy expanded at an annualised clip of 6.0%.

But analysts said the expansion was somewhat softer than the headline figure suggested, as the figure was partly due to weaker imports that reflect tame domestic demand.

Highlighting Japan Inc caution about spending, corporate internal reserves rose 7.4% to hit an all-time high of 554.8 trillion yen ($3.8 trillion) in the year just ended, roughly the size of Japan’s annual economic output, the data also showed.

Corporate recurring profits surged 11.6% during the second quarter from the same period a year ago to hit a record 31.6 trillion yen, while corporate revenues rose 5.8%.

($1 = 145.3200 yen)

(Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Tom Hogue and Edwina Gibbs)