Economy Japan – reversal of deflation policy

Economy Japan – reversal of deflation policy

Persistent deflation in the Japanese economy has had the longstanding effect of deterring small enterprise. However, now that the country is gradually slipping away from this economic constraint, everyone from business start-ups to investors are starting to make bolder decisions.

There is evidence of this optimistic approach in many areas, particularly on the high street. Take the example of hair salons. One particular entrepreneur had been toiling at an upscale shop in Tokyo's exclusive Ginza shopping disctrict for several years. Then he noticed a significant change amongst customer attitudes. Where clients had previously only ever popped into the salon every three months or so, now they were attending on a much more regular basis, sometimes every other four weeks. This was a clear indication that the economy was improving in a big way.

Similar indicators are appearing all over Japan's commercial sector. In fact, all over the country there has been a steady rise in the number of people starting up enterprises. Japan Finance Corporation, which is a government-affiliated body dedicated to financing ventures, is likely to offer more than 20,000 new business loans this year alone. This is the highest lending figure in more than eight years.

In the previously deflationary Japanese economy, aggressive price-cutting has been an effective tactic that big companies have used. This is fine when there is ample capital to spare, but that situation will change if prices increase. According to one official of Japan Finance Corporation, Atsushi Morimoto, "even entrepreneurs with limited funds can compete against big firms by offering quality products and services".

An end to Japan's lengthy period of deflation was signaled when the consumer price index rose for five successive months through October. As well as serving as an incentive for would-be entrepreneurs, the price upturn is inspiring companies to make bolder investments as opposed to pursuing more conservative financial policies.

A classic example of this new-found optimism in the Japanese market is the case of Hiday Hidaka. The Chinese restaurant chain, operating in the Tokyo area, has long been keeping aside ¥4.5 billion, as financial security. But during a shareholder meeting, when a young shareholder pointed out the company's capital efficiency was low, the decision was made by senior management to put that nest egg to more positive use. The company opened up 35 new shops and have not looked back since.

Chinese market to benefit from visa changes

Chinese market to benefit from visa changes

As the Chinese economy goes all out to embrace new areas of commerce, one important change looks set to produce dividends. China's major cities are all looking for innovative methods of kick-starting their various enterprise plans.

One of the prize assets any ambitious business could ask for is a decent share of international travelers. Whether they're arriving in China laden with sterling, US dollars or indeed any other currency, it goes without saying that the longer they stay in China, the more likely they are to cause dents in local retail markets. In recent times there has been a significant drive to coax these tourists into venturing outside of their usual comforts zones. In short, they are being cajoled to leave airports and begin to seriously enjoy all be fine dining and sightseeing opportunities China has to offer.

Five of the largest cities in China: Beijing, Shanghai, Chongging, Chengdu and Guangzhou have introduced a revolutionary visa-free policy. This means that any travelers to these respective cities will be entitled to remain there for periods of up to 72 hours – without visas. Elsewhere in the People's Republic, the city of Dalian is expected to adopt this new approach early next year.

The signs have immediately been promising. Throughout the summer, groups of tourists from as far afield as Australia and France were welcomed into these cities without visas for the very first time. It is fair to say the exercise has been a resounding success. These westerners, relishing their new-found freedom, were to be observed in numbers, sitting outside cafes sipping tea, or getting tucked into bowls of noodles.

As part of the lifting of these visa regulations, travelers must already possess travel tickets into another country, along with the other standard travel documents. In the first instance, the policy was granted to visitors from 45 nations, including Europe and the USA. This was extended last month, and now covers an additional six countries, including Singapore, Japan and Brunei (although visitors from the latter three countries were already allowed to stay without visas for upwards of 15 days).

Japan planes versus trains debate

Japan planes versus trains debate

Japan's main airline carriers face a constant struggle when vying for international routes. Local success is equally all-important. But the most significant threat these carriers are currently facing doesn't come from other companies. It is coming from ground-level.

It is the ever-evolving bullet trains, known as shinkansen, that are really causing headaches for the airline carrier marketing teams. In fact, one Japan Airlines executive officer was completely taken aback during a routine domestic route marketing trip. After taking his seat on a bullet train, the first thing Tadao Nishio noticed was there was no sign of the train rocking sideways as they were once known to do. His experience was one of dizzying speeds coupled with supreme comfort, exactly the combination that the airline carriers so desperately strive for. If Japan's travelers become familiar with fast, smooth, hassle-free train journeys, then there will be fewer of them queuing for plane tickets.

The revolution in train design is not the sole issue dreaded by the airline companies. Nozomi services have increased between Tokyo and Osaka, in the wake of the expansion of Shin-Oasaka Station this March. Bullet train networks now extend to every corner of the country, including Kyushu, Hokkaido and Hokuriku.

Evidence of the increase in the train popularity can be gauged by considering this. 10 years ago, a shinkansen shop opened in Shinagawa, Tokyo. The Nozomi service increased dramatically. 60% of the travelers on the Tokyo to Hiroshima line used to fly the route. This trend has reversed, with 60% choosing the bullet train.

A theory that is commonly used to gauge whether any traveler is liable to choose the train or the plane is a simple one. If the trip is going to be under three hours, then the train is chosen. However, with the bullet trains revving up their speed all the time, journey times are increasingly being chipped away. In March, Tohoku Shinkansen cut the Tokyo to Shin-Aomori route to under that three-hour mark.

Japan Airlines has recently seen its revenue from domestic routes easing to just 70% of their 2006 peak. This represents a loss of around ¥200 billion. Much of these losses were blamed on service cuts in the wake of the carrier's bankruptcy. But the company, perhaps grudgingly, also admit that the bullet trains have been swallowing up much of their customer base.

Singapore market trends reflected by leasing stats

Singapore market trends reflected by leasing stati

As Singapore approaches the turn of another year, many analysts are focusing on issues that sparked interest during 2013, and extrapolating trends to consider what lies in store.

Asia as a whole continued experiencing the after-shocks of the worldwide recession that has had such an impact on international commerce over the past five years. Business sentiment continued to weaken throughout 2013, as the percentages for growth rate expectations required to be tempered. In tandem with the recent liquidity outflows from various Asian markets, Singapore's own tally dipped below the 50% mark. This was the first time this had been reported since 2012.

Multinational corporations are having to maintain a cautious outlook on the overall market environment. Ever conscious of the requirement to protect margins, companies are introducing cost savings initiatives. One of the prime areas that has been affected by this more conservative business ethos has been in real estate spending. In the Singapore business centre, the level of new leasing enquiries fell dramatically during 2013.

It is not all doom and gloom for the Singapore commercial property market. Commentators remain optimistic that it is only a matter of time before business confidence resumes. The aforementioned liquidity outflow is generally expected to be a relatively short-term phenomenon. The Asian commerce zone will continue generating a majority of the world's commercial growth.

One of the monitors of the leasing situation is the Rental Expectations Index. Colliers International published a report that illustrated the extent to which there has been a decline – albeit a gradual one – in Singapore leasing. However, the good news for Singaporean commercial enterprises right across the board, is that the fluctuations in trends shows absolutely no sign of dipping for any great length of time. Fewer brokers estimated that an increase of real estate requirements was likely over the next three quarters compared to the previous three. But the important factor was that the downward trend was definitely showing signs of slowly tapering off. It seems that no-one has reason to be pessimistic about the likelihood for growth in Singapore's leasing markets in 2014.