Japan Q2 growth to be slower than first expected on price rises, Ukraine war - Reuters poll

FILE PHOTO: City skyline and harbour are seen at sunrise from a quarantine bus window during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan July 24, 2021. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
FILE PHOTO: City skyline and harbour are seen at sunrise from a quarantine bus window during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan July 24, 2021. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

By Daniel Leussink

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's economy will grow at a slower pace than previously thought next quarter in part due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine and its inflationary effect on global commodity and energy prices, a Reuters poll of economists showed on Thursday.

The resulting pressure from high energy costs has driven a sharp fall in the yen, which is set to mark its worst month against the dollar since November 2016, losing almost 6%.

About 60% of poll respondents said the economy would only start to be affected by a decline in the yen if it fell past 130 to the dollar, a sign most don't rate the yen's recent weakness as particularly bad. The yen is currently trading around 122 to the dollar.

Since the start of Russia's war in Ukraine on Feb. 24, the economic outlook has become even more difficult to forecast as consumer price rises and supply bottlenecks threaten a solid recovery in domestic demand.

The world's third-largest economy was expected to expand an annualised 4.9% next quarter, below February's prediction of 5.6%, according to the median forecast of nearly 40 analysts in the March 22-30 poll.

A slower expansion still indicates the economy will rebound from a contraction this quarter, when it was expected to shrink an annualised 0.3%. That is a turnaround from a 0.4% expansion predicted for January-March last month.

While consumer activity is usually robust in the second quarter, higher prices are now hurting consumers' purchasing power, restraining the release of pent-up demand after COVID-19 curbs ended, said Hiroshi Namioka, chief strategist and fund manager at T&D Asset Management.

"While there's likely to be some extent of growth in the coming quarter compared to January-March, it's unlikely to be as strong as first thought given the situation in Ukraine," said Namioka.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has already ordered his cabinet to draw up another relief package by the end of April to reduce the economic blow from the surge in global energy and raw materials prices.

Earlier this month the government lifted remaining coronavirus curbs across Japan after Omicron infections subsided following an earlier record surge.

Economists surveyed have not been put off by the yen's weakness, which has traditionally given Japanese exports a tailwind.

Asked what yen level versus the U.S. dollar would hurt the economy, 16 of 27 economists said the damage would exceed the merits when the yen falls below 130 to the dollar.

Six chose a range of 125-130 yen to the dollar, while one picked 120-125, three opted for 115-120 and another one chose stronger than 110 yen per dollar.

The poll also found the economy would grow 2.6% in fiscal 2022, starting in April, after an expected 2.3% growth this fiscal year.

Both forecasts were slightly lower than what was expected in last month's poll, which was conducted mostly before Russia's action in Ukraine, which Moscow calls a "special operation".

Core consumer prices, which exclude volatile fresh food prices, will rise 1.6% next fiscal year and 0.8% in fiscal 2023, after a small 0.1% increase this fiscal year, the poll showed.

While that showed price growth was expected to pick up in coming months, about 85% of analysts polled said the chance Japan's economy slips into recession over the next two years was unlikely or very unlikely.

The remaining 15% said that was likely to happen, while none answered it was very likely.

(For other stories from the Reuters global economic poll:)

(Reporting by Daniel Leussink; polling by Manzer Hussain and Arsh Mogre; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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