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Oct tax hike not sufficient to boost Japan finances

Oct tax hike not sufficient to boost Japan finances

TOKYO
Japan’s tax revenue is expected to end up lower than the record high figure estimated in the fiscal 2020 draft budget, with critics saying the initial tally was based on an economic growth forecast that was “too optimistic.”

Since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe returned to power in late 2012, the actual pace of growth in the world’s third-largest economy has exceeded his government’s forecast only twice.

In the extra budget for fiscal 2019, the Finance Ministry revised down its tax revenue estimate for the year through March to 60.18 trillion yen ($550 billion) from 62.50 trillion yen due to a drop in corporate earnings amid a slowdown of the global economy.

Given the move, private-sector economists suspect that despite October’s increase in the consumption tax by 2 points to 10 percent, the government would have to lower the tax revenue estimate again for the following fiscal year, from a record 63.51 trillion yen.

The estimate was part of a record 102.66 trillion yen in the nation’s initial general account budget for the year starting next April, which Abe’s cabinet approved Friday for submission to parliament next year.

“It is fair to say that the government’s economic and tax revenue estimates are too optimistic and that fiscal discipline is lax,” said Shinichiro Kobayashi, principal economist at Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting Co.

“Achieving the goal of a surplus in the primary balance, which was originally viewed as difficult, could be delayed further,” he said.

Kobayashi was referring to the primary balance — tax revenue minus expenses other than the debt-servicing costs — which the government says it is committed to bringing into the black by fiscal 2025.

Despite the pledge, the nation is likely to post a deficit of 9.20 trillion yen in the primary balance in fiscal 2020, marking the first deterioration in three years, according to the ministry.

The government said it will cut new bond issuance in the initial 2020 budget for the 10th consecutive year. But economists believe the government will end up issuing additional deficit-covering bonds in the coming year in an attempt to balance the budget.

Such a measure would further undermine the government’s efforts to improve Japan’s fiscal health, the worst among major developed economies. As of 2019, the ratio of the nation’s debt against gross domestic product stands at 237.7 percent.

In line with an expansion of outlays in key areas such as social security and defense, the budget is expected to continue to remain above the 100 trillion yen threshold in years to come, according to the economists.

Calling for increased efforts for fiscal consolidation, Takuya Hoshino, an economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute, urged the government to step up studies on how to rein in spending in the budget.

“Japan’s budget spending has become inflexible, sticking to previous levels and practices,” Hoshino said. “It is necessary to put emphasis on quality, rather than quantity.”

Ahead of the compilation of the fiscal 2020 budget, the Cabinet Office projected the Japanese economy will grow a nominal 2.1 percent, citing the effect of a 26 trillion yen stimulus package.

The figure is higher than the average estimate of a 1.02 percent increase by private-sector economists polled in a survey by the Japan Center for Economic Research.

Asked about the gap between the forecasts, Yasutoshi Nishimura, economic and fiscal policy minister, said Wednesday he is “confident” of achieving the government’s growth estimate.

Nishimura, however, referred to the difficulty in foreseeing economic activities, saying, “The economy is a living thing that can be affected by various overseas factors” such as trade tensions between the United States and China.