Manufacturing On Sidelines Of Japan's GDP Growth

A second burst of growth in quarterly gross domestic product (GDP) shows Japan has "managed to escape the crisis," according to Taichi Sakaiya, head of country's Economic Planning Agency. The manufacturing sector was not the engine for growth, however. The 0.2% rise in the April-to-June GDP was fueled by a record surge in housing construction and a further leap in personal computer purchases. Corporate capital investment fell 4%, with some analysts arguing this is likely to stay low over the next few quarters as companies grapple with reconstruction. Imports and exports grew but had no impact on GDP figures. Housing starts skyrocketed as the government-backed home-loan agency relaxed qualification restrictions and lowered home mortgage interest rates to 2%. With the help of computer sales, consumer spending rose 0.8%, also the second consecutive quarter of growth. Individual consumption was negative all of 1998 and has been in the doldrums since the government raised the national consumption tax from 3% to 5% in April 1997. But Japan's second consecutive quarter of growth, though low, has government figures humming the tune of success, predicting Japan will meet its target of 0.5% growth for the year. "Japan is heading for recovery," said Sakaiya. The growth, even the surge in consumer spending, has been spurred by massive government pump priming, particularly in the construction sector. And while analysts have questioned the feasibility of continued pump priming -- given the negative affects on government debt -- officials are completing plans for an additional 500 billion expenditure this month, a second stimulus budget in November, and a major spending package for the annual budget to be announced in December.

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