It’s sad to see a once great country fall on hard times. It’s like watching a formerly leading hedge fund manager apply for food stamps. I’m talking about Japan, which in 1989 boasted the world’s most valuable stocks, largest banks, and strongest currency. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. This week the Ministry of Finance published the trade figures for May showing a 42 percent YOY drop, and that the cataclysmic fall in exports continues unabated, as foreigners keep their money in their pockets instead of buying high quality cars and electronics. Even exports to China fell 29.7 percent. I’m sure the chart below will be found in business school textbooks for decades to come as proof of the risks of running an overly export dependent economy. Although a giant fiscal stimulus package will start to hit in the second half of this year,most economists have GDP forecasts for the year of minus 6.8 percent or worse. This would take GDP back to the 2004 level, and make our economy look positively bubbliscious by comparison. This is all happening when the numbers of those retiring is going through the roof, causing welfare payments to skyrocket. Taking a page out of Obama’s playbook, the government is borrowing to meet these costs, so the national debt is expected to reach the certifiable nosebleed territory of 197 percent by next year! Prime Minister Taro Aso has so far fought off increased consumption taxes, but it is just a matter of time before those efforts are tossed out the window. Continued deflation is a no brainer. Real estate prices are still stuck at 30 percent of their 1990 levels. This is what an “L” shaped recovery looks like up close and ugly. In the meantime,the yen strengthens, making exports ever more expensive and uncompetitive. Better to stand aside from the Land of the Rising Sun and watch with tears. Is the US next?
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