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2009年2月12日 (木)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 11(IHT/Asahi: February 12,2009)

EDITORIAL: Automakers trapped in economic crisis


The impact of the global recession has become more severe in Japan, evidenced by a rapid chilling in both corporate capital outlays and consumer spending. Prime Minister Taro Aso insists the damage is not as grim as in other countries. But should we take him at his word?


Given the difficulties facing the automobile industry, the cleanup hitter in Japan's industrial community, Aso appears to be viewing the landscape through rose-colored glasses.


Under financial settlement projections for the year to end this March announced by Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co. and the rest of the nation's 10 major automakers, five companies predict operating losses.


Toyota, which posted a consolidated operating profit of 2.27 trillion yen for fiscal 2007, forecasts a loss of 450 billion yen in fiscal 2008. Dragged down by slumping sales worldwide, the 10 makers are expected to cut their collective production by 4.14 million units for this fiscal year.

That's almost equal to Honda Motor Co.'s entire annual output.


In the past when Japan fell on hard times, certain overseas markets would remain robust, with automakers cranking up exports to weather the storm. Even during Japan's financial crisis of a decade ago, when a number of banks and brokerages went belly up, the solid market for exports offered key support.


But the current global downturn has sent all overseas markets into retreat, blocking the way to increase exports under the conventional strategy. The usual support sources have fallen into predicaments of their own, with the crisis running deeper and swifter than ever before.

Aso also said he feels too much fuss is being made over this slowdown, and that he is confident a remedy can be made with the right anti-recession policies. The gap between Aso's view and the realities that are unfolding is stark and widening.


It is true that as of last September, Japan's economy still remained relatively sound in comparison to that of the United States, where the current crisis broke out, and of Britain. The sense of crisis among domestic business circles was also limited in scope.


The past few months have seen conditions worsen. The reluctance to spend money on cars and household electronic appliances has spread globally at a breakneck speed. The credit crunch has wounded the real economy. A vicious cycle is ensuing under which the credit squeeze and the weakened economy mutually aggravate the situation.


Under this impact, Japan's economic growth rate for the October-December 2008 quarter is believed to have contracted to an even greater degree than in the United States and Britain initially struck by the financial crisis.


The governments of the United States, France and Sweden have begun to unveil financial assistance plans and other measures to shore up their auto industries. Similar wishes have been directed toward Tokyo. Nissan Motor President Carlos Ghosn says he hopes government support will be extended to his industry at this time.


Going too far with such industrial aid can prompt a rise in protectionism and impede free trade. While rushing forth in reckless fashion is taboo, there are certain aspects of domestic support that are unavoidable from the perspective of crisis and job measures.


The auto industry is a sector that wields a heavy influence over the future of the Japanese economy. Hardly limited to motor vehicles, the government and the Diet must make hard decisions on what countermeasures are most appropriate right now. They must also determine what degree of responsibility the government should assume and at what point self-help efforts need to kick in.


With his comments, perhaps Aso hopes to avoid sinking the nation into excessive pessimism. As things stand now, though, it makes far greater sense to tackle these grave realities head-on.



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