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2009年4月 3日 (金)

社説:日銀3月短観 「夜明け前」が一番暗い

(Mainichi Japan) April 2, 2009
Confidence in economy reflects darkest hour before dawn
社説:日銀3月短観 「夜明け前」が一番暗い

The "tankan" business confidence report for March, announced by the Bank of Japan (BOJ) on Wednesday, the first day of fiscal 2009, shows that Japanese companies' business confidence has plunged to the worst-ever level. One could hardly believe its contents as if it were an April Fool joke.

A survey that the central bank conducted in March to compile the report clearly demonstrated that the economic downturn that began in autumn last year has sped up since the beginning of this year. At the same time, however, the report shows some signs that the economy will not plunge to further depths. It is hoped that companies will prepare to go on the offensive when the economy picks up sooner or later.

In particular, the tankan report shows that the business confidence of major companies that rely largely on exports for their profits rapidly worsened. According to trade statistics compiled by the Finance Ministry, Japan's exports early this year almost halved from the previous year. Specifically, exports posted 46 percent and 49 percent year-on-year decreases in January and February, respectively. Japan's automobile industry was hit especially hard by a decrease in external demand; car exports fell 70 percent in February from the year earlier.

The March tankan report shows that major automakers' business confidence came to minus 92, significantly below minus 68 that the BOJ forecasted when it conducted a similar survey in December, demonstrating that the whole car industry has been shocked by drastic decreases in exports.

However, it should be noted that the tankan suggests a glimmer of hope for recovery. The future business confidence of major manufacturers turned upward for the first time in about three years, with the indexes of automobile and electric machinery makers increasing by around 10 points. Many firms' forecasts for their profits and labor surplus for fiscal 2009 have hinted that the economy appeared to be bottoming out. Share prices in Tokyo reacted positively to the tankan report.

It goes without saying that there are still uncertain factors in Japan's economic conditions and it appears likely to take a long time before one can be optimistic about an increase in jobs and income. The unemployment rate is feared to rise further. Therefore, the government should steadily implement measures to support the economy for the time being. To turn the potential of recovery into a reality, it is important for Japan to not only implement economic stimulus measures domestically but also firmly support emerging economies, including those in Asia.

Company executives and employees should not overreact to the phrase, "a crisis that occurs only once every 100 years," which is heard on a regular basis. It is hoped that firms will develop new markets and make full use of their technology to improve the value of their products. They obviously have human resources that they have not fully utilized and high-level technology that is competitive in the international market.

Numerous companies held their initiation ceremonies for newly hired employees on Wednesday.

"The current difficult situation is a chance to achieve new advancements. We have begun proactive efforts toward a new phase of development," Fumio Otsubo, president of Panasonic Corp., told newcomers during its ceremony. His statement is an example of companies' moves in preparation for economic recovery. It is hoped that such trends will become predominant and widespread. Financial institutions are required to play a proactive role in searching for buds of growth and financially supporting them.

Many Japanese companies became stronger over the years by overcoming difficulties such as two oil crises and the yen's rapid appreciation, and achieved resurgence. We believe that they will do the same by overcoming the current global economic crisis.

The darkest hour before dawn is an opportunity to take action to make a great leap forward.

毎日新聞 2009年4月2日 0時04分


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