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Is Abenomics Working?

TOKYO – Last April, Japan’s government implemented a long-planned consumption-tax hike, from 5% to 8%, the first in a two-step increase that is expected to bring the rate to 10% by 2015. The hike – a key feature of “Abenomics,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s three-pronged strategy to revive Japan’s economy – signals the government’s long-term commitment to fiscal consolidation. But it has also dealt Japan a heavy macroeconomic blow.

Preliminary GDP data show a 6.8% contraction year-on-year in the second quarter of this year – the largest since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated the country. Moreover, consumer spending fell by a record amount, contributing to a total real (inflation-adjusted) decline of 5.9% from last July.

But it is not all bad news. Expansionary monetary policy – the second of three so-called “arrows” of Abenomics, after fiscal stimulus – has brought down the unemployment rate to just 3.8%. The ratio of job openings to applicants has exceeded parity, and the GDP deflator narrowed to close to zero.

Such data have given rise to two opposing views. Some economists worry that negative second-quarter data will dampen inflation expectations, thereby undermining Abe’s plan for boosting growth. Meanwhile, the Bank of Japan (BOJ) is emphasizing the positive outcomes of its monetary policy – and is hesitating to continue its expansionary measures.