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Economy in Brief

Japan's Economy Watchers Index and Outlook Fade
by Robert Brusca  August 8, 2022

The chart for Japan's economy watchers index and components underlines the volatility in the underlying economy and in the outlook since the Covid virus struck. Looking at that chart before Covid, the moves in the current index and in the future index appear calm and trend-related compared to what we have been seeing since early-2020. Just the shortest bit of time and looking at this chart of these time series makes it quite clear that something very different happened and continues to be an operation. From June 2020 to July 2002, volatility in the current index rose by 90% compared to the earlier period from Jan 2014 to Jan 2020 before Covid.

Japan's current economy watchers index has dropped to 43.8 in July from 52.9 in June. The three-month changes is a decline of 6.6-points, the six-month change is a 5.9-point rise, while the 12-month change is a 4.2-point drop. The standing for the current index is at its 34.8 percentile, just outside of the lower 1/3 of its historic queue of values. This is a very low reading. Among the surveyed sectors, retailing with the standing in its 40.9 percentile is the relative strongest with the reading on the job market at its 39.7 percentile mark close behind. The weakest sector right now is eating and drinking indicating the lingering impact that Covid fears have had on Japan’s economy in addition to concerns about growth. The reading for eating and drinking establishments, fell from 62 in June to 30.8 in July.

Japan's economy watchers future index also is weak; it fell in July to 42.8 from 47.6 in June. That index has a 21.5 percentile standing, a standing near the boundary of the lower one fifth of its historic queue of data. The future index is down by 7.5 points over three months, up by 0.3 points over six months and lower by 4.5-points over 12 months.

The strongest reading in the future index is for employment at a 35.2 percentile standing, followed by a 34.4 percentile standing for eating and drinking places. This seems to underscore that the current ranking for eating and drinking places is so weak it is viewed as temporary so that a future rebound is expected. The weakest readings in the future index are for housing in its lower 10-percentile followed by services in its 13.4 percentile.

The economy watchers index is clearly emanating weak signals and signals that have weakened sharply over the last three months.

The July reading of the economy watchers survey both current conditions and for the future index underscore difficulties in the Japanese economy. However, because of the choppy nature of both the current and the future indexes, we can't be particularly sure that this is a reliable reading. These readings seem to chop up and down over very short periods; we will be open the possibility that there could be a rebound next month. That's not a forecast; it's just an interpretation of the time series and its recent behavior. If there is another weak reading in a month, that will start thinking that it's more of an authentic sign of weakening in the economy. For now, we simply can't be sure. However, in the context of the global environment, in the context of what's going on with Japan's main trading partners, and in the context of the heightened geopolitical risk, there's every reason to think that these weak readings for the current index and for the future index may in fact be real.

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