The Japanese Economy Is In Much Bigger Trouble Than Most People Think

Now that nearly a month has gone by since the horrific tsunami in Japan on March 11th, it is starting to become clear just how much economic damage has been done.  The truth is that the Japanese economy is in much bigger trouble than most people think.  This is almost certainly going to be the most expensive disaster in Japanese history.  The tsunami that struck Japan on March 11th swept up to 6 miles inland, destroying virtually everything in the way.  Thousands upon thousands of Japanese were killed and entire cities were wiped off the map.  Yes, Japan is a resilient nation, but exactly how does a nation that is already drowning in debt replace dozens of cities and towns that are suddenly gone?  The truth is that thousands of square miles have been more completely destroyed than if they had been bombed by a foreign military force. The loss of homes, cars, businesses and personal wealth is almost unimaginable. It is going to take many years to rebuild the roads, bridges, rail systems, ports, power lines and water systems that were lost.  Nobody is quite sure when the rolling blackouts are going to end, and nobody is quite sure when all of the damaged manufacturing facilities are going to be fully brought back online.

On top of everything else, the nuclear crisis at Fukushima never seems to end.  In fact, it seems to get worse with each passing day.

According to the Los Angeles Times, it has now been announced that seawater off the coast of Japan near the Fukushima facility was recently found to contain 7.5 million times the legal limit of radioactive iodine….

The operator of Japan’s stricken Fukushima nuclear plant said Tuesday that it had found radioactive iodine at 7.5 million times the legal limit in a seawater sample taken near the facility, and government officials imposed a new health limit for radioactivity in fish.

Do you think anyone is going to want any Japanese seafood after this?

In fact, at this point one must really question the long-term prospects for the seafood industry in that entire region of Asia.  There are going to be tens of millions of people (myself included) that will no longer want anything to do with any seafood that comes from that part of the world.

Sadly, some nuclear experts now claim that it could take years to bring the reactors at Fukushima fully back under control.

At the end of this crisis, how large of an area around Fukushima will be uninhabitable?

A 20 km radius?

A 30 km radius?

A 40 km radius?

More?

Japan is the third largest economy in the world, but it never was a large nation to begin with.  Now that the tsunami and the nuclear crisis at Fukushima have made the amount of usable land significantly smaller, what is that going to mean for the future of the Japanese economy?

That is a very good question.

The truth is that there are already signs that the Japanese economy is regressing into another recession.

According to The Telegraph, one major manufacturing index in Japan has already shown a very serious decline….

The purchasing mangers’ index (PMI) gave an early indication of the extent of the damage wreaked on the economy as it dropped 6.5 points to a reading of 46.4, the largest slide since the survey began in late-2001.

In particular, the auto industry is really being affected by this crisis.  Vehicle supply chains all over the globe are now in a state of chaos.

Approximately 3,000 individual parts go into every single new vehicle.  If even one of those parts is missing, a new car or truck cannot be built.

So just how big of a problem are we looking at?

Well, it was originally projected that 72 million vehicles would be built around the globe in 2011.

As a result of the crisis in Japan, approximately 5 million of those vehicles will not be built.

That is very serious.

In fact, Goldman Sachs is projecting that this crisis is currently costing automakers in Japan $200 million every single day.

Ouch!

A recent article on CNBC detailed some of the problems that Japanese automakers are facing right now….

In the weeks ahead, car buyers will have difficulty finding the model they want in certain colors, thousands of auto plant workers will likely be told to stay home, and companies such as Toyota, Honda and others will lose billions of dollars in revenue. More than two weeks since the natural disaster, inventories of crucial car supplies — from computer chips to paint pigments — are dwindling fast as Japanese factories that make them struggle to restart.

Unfortunately, the worst for the auto industry is yet to come.  AutoNation is warning that “production disruptions will significantly impact product availability from Japanese auto manufacturers in the second and third quarters of 2011.”

Because of supply chain disruptions, a number of North American manufacturing facilities look like they will be shutting down at least for a while.

For example, Toyota has announced that it will be shutting down all of its North American factories for a certain period of time because of shortages of parts from Japan.

But Toyota is far from alone as a recent report in The Globe and Mail made quite clear….

Honda Motor Co. Ltd. has already slashed output by half at its North American plants, while Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. will shut all its U.S. and Mexican plants for at least one week in April. Ford Motor Co., too, has halted production at a truck plant in Kentucky this week.

So why don’t North American facilities just switch to other suppliers?

Unfortunately, as CNN recently noted, it is just not that simple….

Japanese companies also specialized in making the array of highly specialized computer chips that control everything from the engine to the brakes in modern cars. Computer chip production is a complex process that can take weeks and involves hundreds of individual steps, Morgan Stanley analyst Noriaki Hirakata said.

Not only that, but if an automaker is forced to find a new source for an electronic chip, the process of “certifying” a new computer chip supplier — that is, determining that a new company can meet all the requirements for cost, quality and quantity — can take as long as a year, Hirakata said.

The truth is that this is a complete and total economic disaster.

The Japanese economy is not going to be the same for many years to come.  In fact, many are now warning that this could be one of the triggers that could lead to another major global financial crisis.

One of the big fears is that Japan will need to sell off a large amount of U.S. Treasuries to fund the rebuilding of that nation.

If that were to happen, it could result in a “liquidity crisis” similar to what we saw in 2008.  Already the rest of the world is really starting to lose confidence in the U.S. dollar and in U.S. Treasuries, and if Japan starts massively dumping U.S. government debt things could get out of control fairly quickly.

In any event, it is undeniable that the Japanese economy has been absolutely devastated by this crisis.  In fact, when you combine the tsunami and the nuclear crisis, this could be the biggest economic disaster that any major industrial power has faced since World War 2.

So will the crisis in Japan push the rest of the globe into another major recession?

Only time will tell.

14 Reasons Why The Economic Collapse Of Japan Has Begun

The economic collapse of Japan has begun.  The extent of the devastation is now becoming clear and many are now projecting that this will be the most expensive natural disaster in modern human history.  The tsunami that struck Japan on March 11th swept up to 6 miles inland, destroying virtually everything in the way.  Countless thousands were killed and entire communities were totally wiped out.  So how does a nation that is already drowning in debt replace dozens of cities and towns that have suddenly been destroyed?  Many in the mainstream media are claiming that the economy of Japan will bounce right back from this, but they are wrong.  The tsunami decimated thousands of square miles.  The loss of homes, cars, businesses and personal wealth is almost unimaginable.  It is going to take many years to rebuild the roads, bridges, rail systems, ports, power lines and water systems that were lost.  There are going to be a significant number of Japanese insurance companies and financial institutions that are going to be totally wiped out as a result of this great tragedy.  Of course in the days ahead the Japanese people will band together and work hard to rebuild the nation, but the truth is that it is impossible to “bounce right back” from such a massive loss of wealth, assets and infrastructure.

Just think about what happened after Hurricane Katrina.  Did the economy of New Orleans bounce right back?  No, there are some areas of New Orleans today that still look like war zones.

Well, this disaster is much worse.

The truth is that this is going to be one of the defining moments in the history of Japan.  Hundreds of miles along the coast of Japan have been absolutely devastated.  Authorities are finding it difficult to even get food and water into some areas at this point.

Even before this great tragedy Japan was one of the nations that was on the verge of a national economic collapse.  Their economy had been in the doldrums for over a decade and their national debt was well over 200 percent of GDP.  Now the Japanese economy has experienced a shock from which it may never truly recover.

The Bank of Japan is already flooding the Japanese economy with new yen, and so we may indeed see some impressive “economic growth” statistics at the end of the year.  But just because lots more yen are being passed around does not mean that the Japanese economy is in better shape.

The truth is that a tsunami of yen is not going to undo the damage that the tsunami of water did.  A massive amount of Japanese wealth was wiped out by this disaster.  An economy that was already teetering on the brink is now very likely going to plunge into oblivion.

It is fine to be optimistic, but the cold, hard reality of the situation is that this is a knockout blow for the Japanese economy.  The extent of the devastation is just too great.  This truly is a complete and total nightmare.

The following are 14 reasons why the economic collapse of Japan has now begun….

#1 The Bank of Japan has announced that they have decided to flood the Japanese economy with 15 trillion yen.  That is the equivalent of roughly $183 billion dollars.  This is going to provide needed liquidity in the short-term, but it is also going to set Japan on a highly inflationary course.

#2 Japan’s Nikkei 225 stock average declined by more than 6 percent on Monday.  As the full extent of the damage becomes apparent more declines are likely.

#3 Oil refineries all over Japan have been severely damaged or destroyed.  For example, six refineries that combine to process 31 percent of the oil for Japan have been totally shut down at least for now.

#4 The damage to roads, bridges, ports and rail systems is estimated to be in the billions of dollars.  The damage done to power lines and water systems is almost unimaginable.  It is going to take many years to rebuild the infrastructure of Japan.

#5 Right now the flow of goods and services in many areas of northern Japan has been reduced to a crawl, and this is likely to remain the case for quite some time.

#6 Many cities and towns along the east coast of Japan have essentially been completely destroyed.

#7 Japan’s nuclear industry is essentially dead in the water at this point.  Even if there is not a full-blown nuclear meltdown, the events that have transpired already have frightened people enough to cause a massive public outcry against nuclear power in Japan.

#8 Japan is going to need even more oil and natural gas in the long run to replace lost nuclear energy production.  Prior to this crisis, Japan derived 29 percent of its electricity from nuclear power.

#9 Japan is the second largest foreign holder of U.S. government debt, but that is about to change.  Japan currently has about $882 billion in U.S. Treasury bonds and they are going to have to liquidate much of that in order to fund the rebuilding of their nation.

#10 Many factories in Japan are closing down at least temporarily.  For example, Nissan has shut down four factories and Sony has shut down six factories.

#11 Toyota has shut down all production at its factories in Japan until at least March 16th.

#12 A substantial number of Japanese financial institutions and insurance companies are absolutely going to be devastated by this nightmare.

#13 Japan’s budget deficit was already 9 percent of GDP even before this tragedy.  Now they are going to have to borrow lots more money to fund the rebuilding effort.

#14 Japan’s national debt was already well over 200 percent of GDP even before this tragedy.  How much farther into the danger zone can they possibly go?

Sadly, as the economy of Japan goes down it is going to have a huge affect on the rest of the world as well.  For example, Japan is no longer going to be able to buy up huge amounts of U.S. Treasuries.  So who is going to pick up the slack?  Will our government officials beg China to lend us even more money?  Will the Federal Reserve just “buy” even more of our government debt?

Right now there are more questions than there are answers, but what is clear is that the Japanese economy has just been dealt an incapacitating blow.  Hopefully this tragedy will bring out the best in the Japanese people, but no matter how resilient they are, the truth is that this is something that no nation would be able to bounce back from quickly.

Let us hope that the economic damage from this tragedy will be contained and will not spread to the rest of the world.  The global economy is already in enough trouble, and hopefully this tragedy will not cause a cascade of economic failures to sweep the globe.

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