Most Japan firms expect BOJ to increase rates towards 0.25% this year: Reuters Poll

By Thomson Reuters Mar 20, 2024 | 6:04 PM

By Rocky Swift

TOKYO (Reuters) – The majority of Japanese firms expect the central bank to lift interest rates further this year, with many looking to front-load capital spending before lending costs rise, a Reuters survey showed on Thursday.

The poll, conducted before the Bank of Japan announced an end to its negative rate policy on Tuesday, showed that just over 60% of respondents expect rates, currently around zero, to rise to 0.25% by the end of the year.

Two-fifths of companies polled said they are looking to boost capital spending in the financial year beginning in April from what they expect to have spent in current financial year. A similar number also said they aimed to undertake much of that spending ahead of rate hikes.

Only 11% expect to reduce business investment from this financial year.

“We’re drawing down on retained earnings to engage in capital investment,” an executive at a metal products manufacturer wrote in the comments section of the poll.

A manager at a retail company said the company is front-loading bank loans, while a construction firm responded that it was cutting down on interest-bearing debt.

The survey of 498 firms was conducted for Reuters by Nikkei Research from March 6-15, with companies responding on condition of anonymity. A total of 237 companies responded.

The BOJ has been a holdout among central banks in maintaining a spigot of easy money to spur the economy and halt deflation. But corporate Japan is now seeing rising wages and inflation.

Sentiment at the companies remains lacklustre with 63% saying business conditions were not good and another 8% saying they were bad. That was, however, a marginal improvement from February when 60% said business conditions were not good and 14% said they were bad.

Asked about expectations for operating profit in the upcoming financial year compared to their estimates for the current business year, 39% said they expect roughly the same amount, while 23% saw increases of about 10% in income and 13% saw gains of more than a fifth.

For those saying profits were likely to climb, 87% ascribed the gains to improved sales.

On expectations for the yen, 61% predicted it to trade between 140 to 149 yen to the dollar, while 20% saw it still weaker at 150 to 159 yen. Eighteen percent saw it trading between 130 to 139 yen.

(For a table of poll data, click here)

(Reporting by Rocky Swift; Editing by David Dolan and Edwina Gibbs)