January 22, 2018 / 1:16 AM / 6 months ago

Japan's fiscal target pushed back as government prioritizes social spending

(This January 21 item corrects date of government announcement to Tuesday, not Monday)

FILE PHOTO - Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (R) sits next to Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso as they attend a lower house budget committee session at the parliament in Tokyo, Japan July 24, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan pushed back its projections for achieving a primary budget surplus by two years to the 2027 fiscal year on Tuesday, highlighting the difficulty of restoring fiscal health as spending grows.

The new projections presented by the Cabinet Office will provide the basis for a fresh fiscal reform plan, to be drawn up by the government this summer.

The delay in the fiscal target was widely expected, but concerns still remain about how Japan will lower its debt burden, which is the industrial world’s heaviest at more than twice the size of its economy.

Questions about fiscal discipline also affect the Bank of Japan, because it prints money to buy government debt under its aggressive monetary stimulus.

The government expects to swing to a primary budget surplus of 800 billion yen ($7.23 billion) or 0.1 percent of gross domestic product in fiscal 2027, the latest forecasts showed.

The government’s previous twice-yearly projections last July showed the budget would swing to a primary surplus of 1.8 trillion yen or 0.2 percent of GDP in fiscal 2025.

The primary budget excludes debt servicing costs and income from bond sales.

Originally the goal was to achieve the surplus in fiscal 2020, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party omitted this deadline from its campaign platform for last October’s election and made spending on education and welfare at the core of its campaign.

Abe has expressed a desire to achieve the primary budget surplus as early as possible. But the premier remains hesitant to set a binding cap on spending, as he focuses more on growth than austerity to revive the economy and restore fiscal health.

Some analysts say a delay in the primary budget target isn’t problematic because the economy is enjoying its best run of growth in a decade and tax revenue has been rising.

Abe’s government last month compiled a 97.7 trillion yen budget - a record high for the sixth year - for fiscal 2018, led by bulging welfare spending due to an aging population and the cost of servicing snowballing debt.

Reporting by Stanley White; Editing by Shri Navaratnam

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