Japan machinery orders rise, COVID emergency clouds outlook

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s core machinery orders unexpectedly rose for a second straight month in November, data showed on Thursday, although a renewed coronavirus emergency in Tokyo and 10 other areas may cool business appetite for capital spending.

FILE PHOTO: Fanuc Corp's machinery models are seen at Narita International airport terminal 1 in Narita, near Tokyo, Japan, March 25, 2016. REUTERS/Yuya Shino

The surprise gain in core orders, a key indicator of capital expenditure, could be a temporary relief to policymakers hoping for corporate investment to spur a private demand-led recovery in the world’s third-largest economy.

The Cabinet Office data showed core orders, a highly volatile data series regarded as an indicator of capital spending in the coming six to nine months, grew 1.5% in November from October, led by increased demand for chip-making equipment and computers, possibly backed by people working from home.

It was a second straight month of gains and compared with economists’ median estimate of a 6.2% drop, following a 17.1% jump in the previous month.

However, Japanese firms could grow cautious about boosting capital expenditure due to dwindling corporate profits, while a state of emergency implemented in Tokyo and 10 other prefectures through Feb. 7 could exacerbate conerns.

“Core orders likely picked up in the fourth quarter due to pent-up demand for capital spending thanks to government stimulus and overseas economic recovery,” said Takeshi Minami, chief economist at Norinchukin Research Institute.

“That will be temporary. The coronavirus has been spreading in Japan and elsewhere, forcing lockdowns in major economies, which will affect Japanese exports and service-sector activity.”

By sector, orders from manufacturers fell 2.4% month-on-month, while those from non-manufacturers grew 5.6% from the previous month, the Cabinet Office data showed.

The government raised its assessment on machinery orders, saying they showed a pick-up move. Previously it said orders had stopped falling.

Japan’s economy rebounded sharply in the third quarter from its deepest postwar slump, thanks to pick-ups in exports and private consumption, which makes up more than half the economy.

But some analysts flagged the risk of a double-dip recession ahead given the current third wave of coronavirus infections.

Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto; editing by Richard Pullin