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Japan's turn to have its rating cut blaming debt and political problems

Wednesday, August 24th 2011 - 23:43 UTC
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Unpopular Prime Minister Naoto Kan is calling elections: sixth leader in five years Unpopular Prime Minister Naoto Kan is calling elections: sixth leader in five years

Moody's Investors Service cut this week its rating on Japan's government debt by one notch to Aa3, blaming a build-up of debt since the 2009 global recession and revolving-door political leadership that has hampered effective economic strategies.

Japan is preparing to elect its sixth leader in five years to replace unpopular Prime Minister Naoto Kan, under fire for his handling of the response to a March tsunami and subsequent radiation crisis at a crippled nuclear power plant.

The downgrade, while not out of the blue, served as another reminder of the debt burdens that nearly all of the world's major advanced economies shoulder, even as policymakers struggle to agree on ways to stimulate sub-par growth without massive new spending.

The United States lost its top-tier AAA rating from Standard & Poor's earlier this month, and Moody's warned in June that it may downgrade Italy as Europe's sovereign debt crisis festers.

Moody's new rating on Japan's debt is three notches below coveted AAA status, which Tokyo lost in 1998, but is still classified as high grade. Japan is now the same level as China, which surpassed it last year to become the world's second-largest economy, and one notch below Italy and Spain.

”Over the past five years, frequent changes in (Japan's) administrations have prevented the government from implementing long-term economic and fiscal strategies into effective and durable policies,“ Moody's said.

Moody's had warned in May that it might downgrade Japan's Aa2 rating due to heightened concerns about faltering growth prospects and a weak policy response to rein in bulging public debt, already twice the size of its 5 trillion dollars economy.

Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda, a fiscal conservative who has joined the race to succeed Kan, refrained from direct comment on Moody's downgrade. But he said: ”Recent JGB auctions have met favourable demand and I don't see any change in market confidence in JGBs.”

Japan's next leader has a mountain of challenges ahead, from battling a soaring yen and forging a post-nuclear crisis energy policy to rebuilding from the tsunami and reining in public debt, while paying for reconstruction and the bulging costs of an aging society.

The March disasters knocked the economy back into recession, and the strength of an expected rebound later this year is being clouded by weak domestic and global demand and recent gains in the yen, which threaten export competitiveness.

Moody's said Japan needed to achieve 3% nominal growth in its gross domestic product to get the deficit under control and that a government plan to double the 5% sales tax by mid-decades was not bold enough.

The downgrade brings Moody's rating for Japan into line with rival agency Standard & Poor's, which cut Japan's rating in January to AA minus, the fourth-highest on its scale.

Moody's downgrade of Japan was its first since 2002, when it reduced the rating to A2, six notches from the top. It had upgraded Japan three times since then, with the last upgrade as recent as May 2009.

Categories: Economy, International.

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