By Daniel Leussink
TOKYO – Japan’s industrial output posted the biggest monthly drop in a year in May, as a sharp fall in car production threatened to undermine the country’s economic recovery just weeks before Tokyo is set to host the Olympic Games.
The world’s third-largest economy will likely grow at a much slower pace than initially thought in the current quarter in part due to weakness in consumer spending, a poll by economists showed this month.
Factory output slumped 5.9% in May from the previous month, official data showed on Wednesday, hit by declines in the manufacturing of cars and production machinery to post its largest monthly drop since May last year.
The contraction, which was the first drop in three months, was much weaker than a 2.4% fall forecast in a Reuters poll of economists. It followed a 2.9% gain in the previous month.
Output was weighed by a 19.4% drop in motor vehicle production, largely due to supply issues with semiconductor chips, as well as a decline in production machinery.
Manufacturers surveyed by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) expected output to rebound 9.1% in June, followed by a 1.4% drop in July.
The government kept its assessment of industrial production unchanged, saying it was picking up.
Separate data on Tuesday showed retail sales rose for a third straight month in May, but failed to dispel worries that the economic recovery will take time to gather steam as COVID-19-linked pressures remained.
Japan’s economy slipped into contraction in the first quarter as a late vaccine rollout and emergency measures put in place to stem a rise in infections have taken a toll on domestic demand, throwing into doubt the country’s economic outlook.
Despite those setbacks, Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura expects the economy to return to pre-coronavirus levels in the current fiscal year, which runs through March 2022.