Japan’s Dec factory output falls faster than expected By Reuters


© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Smoke rises from a factory during the sunset at Keihin industrial zone in Kawasaki, Japan, January 16, 2017. REUTERS / Toru Hanai

By Daniel Leussink

TOKYO (Reuters) -Japan’s factory output shrank for the first time in three months in December as a decline in machinery outweighed a small rise in car production, casting a cloud over the strength of economic recovery.

Retail sales posted their third straight month of year-on-year gains in December as low coronavirus cases encouraged shoppers. Record infections this month driven by the Omicron variant, however, are expected to have hit consumer sentiment.

Factory production lost 1.0% in December from the previous month, pulled down by a decline in output of general-purpose and production machinery, including chip-making equipment and engines used in manufacturing.

That meant that output, which fell faster than the 0.8% decline forecast in a Reuters poll of economists, dropped for the first time in three months.

“Output especially fell among capital goods makers, probably due to the strong impact from the chip shortages,” said Takeshi Minami, chief economist at Norinchukin Research Institute.

“It suggests its impact is widening even though the focus has been on the car industry.”

Automakers have been forced to curb production even as demand in key markets such as China rebounds, while they also have had to contend with soaring semiconductor demand at consumer electronic companies.

Toyota Motor (NYSE 🙂 Co, the world’s biggest car seller, said this month it expected production to fall short of an annual target of 9 million vehicles for its current business year that runs until the end of March due to the drag from the chip shortage .

Last week, motor maker Nidec Corp.’s third-quarter operating profit dipped as rising material prices and a shortage of semiconductors squeezed margins.

The data showed output growth of cars and other vehicles slowed to 1.5% from the previous month in December, much weaker than the 43.7% surge in November and a 15.9% jump in October.

Some companies in the car industry had weathered the competition for chip supply better than others, a government official said.

“Procurement is increasing, but the situation is different from firm to firm,” the official said.

Manufacturers surveyed by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) expected output to grow 5.2% in January and 2.2% in February.

The forecasts probably did not include production cuts made after the Jan. 10 survey deadline, the official said.

Separate data showed retail sales were weaker than expected, rising 1.4% in December from a year earlier, which was smaller than the median market forecast for a 2.7% rise.

That marked the third straight month of increases for retail sales, which were lifted by stronger demand for general merchandise and food and beverages.

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