TOKYO (REUTERS) – Japan’s factory output shrank for the first time in three months in December as a decline in machinery outweighed a small rise in car production, casting a cloud over the strength of the economic recovery.
Retail sales posted their third straight month of year-on-year gains in December as low coronavirus cases encouraged shoppers. Record infections this month driven by the Omicron variant, however, are expected to have hit consumer sentiment.
Factory production lost 1 per cent in December from the previous month, pulled down by a decline in output of general purpose and production machinery, including chip-making equipment and engines used in manufacturing.
This meant that output, which fell faster than the 0.8 per cent decline forecast in a Reuters poll of economists, dropped for the first time in three months.
“Output especially fell among capital goods makers, probably due to the strong impact from the chip shortages,” said Norinchukin Research Institute chief economist Takeshi Minami.
“It suggests its impact is widening even though the focus has been on the car industry.”
Automakers have been forced to curb production even as demand in key markets such as China rebounds, while they also have had to contend with soaring semiconductor demand at consumer electronic companies.
Toyota Motor, the world’s biggest car seller, said this month it expected production to fall short of an annual target of nine million vehicles for its current business year, which runs until the end of March, due to the drag from the chip shortage.
Last week, motor maker Nidec’s third-quarter operating profit dipped as rising material prices and a shortage of semiconductors squeezed margins.
The data showed that output growth of cars and other vehicles slowed to 1.5 per cent from the previous month in December, much weaker than the 43.7 per cent surge in November and the 15.9 per cent jump in October.
Some companies in the car industry had weathered the competition for chip supply better than others, a government official said.
“Procurement is increasing, but the situation is different from firm to firm,” the official said.
Manufacturers surveyed by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry expected output to grow 5.2 per cent in January and 2.2 per cent in February.
The forecasts likely did not include production cuts made after the Jan 10 survey deadline, the official said.
Separate data showed that retail sales were weaker than expected, rising 1.4 per cent in December from a year earlier, which was smaller than the median market forecast for a 2.7 per cent rise.
That marked the third straight month of increases for retail sales, which were lifted by stronger demand for general merchandise and food and beverages.