Slower Japanese growth weighs on markets

LONDON (AP) — Weaker-than-expected economic growth in Japan weighed on markets Monday on what is a fairly light day on the global economic calendar.

The main indicator of the day was the 2.6 percent annualized second-quarter growth rate recorded in Japan, the world’s third-largest economy. The number was below the 3.8 percent rate recorded in the first quarter and the 3.6 percent predicted by analysts and dented sentiment around the world.

Investors are concerned that the big monetary stimulus that is being pursued by the government may not be reaping the rewards hoped for. Japan is trying to come out of a two-decade economic stagnation. The Nikkei 225 index slid back following the news, to end the day 0.7 percent lower at 13,519.43, while the yen fell. The dollar was up 0.1 percent at 96.45 yen.

The slower growth could make it difficult for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to carry out plans to raise the sales tax by 3 percentage points in April to improve public finances. The tax is now 5 percent.

“Raising the consumption tax is key to long-term fiscal consolidation in Japan,” said Lee Hardman, an analyst at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ. He said that if Abe doesn’t raise the tax as planned, he “would risk undermining foreign investor confidence” in his policies.

Following the Japanese news, stock markets in Europe and the U.S. were lackluster amid a dearth of economic data.

Britain’s FTSE 100 shed 0.1 percent to close at 6,574.34 while Germany’s DAX rose 0.3 percent to 8,359.25. The CAC-40 in France lost 0.1 percent to 4,071.68.

In the U.S., the Dow Jones industrial average was down 0.1 percent at 15,416.74 while the broader S&P 500 index fell 0.1 percent to 1,689.41.

Last week, U.S. stocks suffered their worst week since June amid worries over when the U.S. Federal Reserve will start to reduce its monetary stimulus. Recent comments from a raft of Fed officials have indicated that it may start as soon as September.

This week’s U.S. economic data, including retail sales figures for July, will be assessed in the context of when the Fed will begin the so-called tapering.

Michael Hewson, senior market analyst at CMC Markets, said it seems investors are becoming concerned about the Fed’s timing and reluctant to push stock indexes any higher.

“Given the proximity to all-time highs it appears that prudence is taking precedence over risk, with little in the way of new factors to stimulate new buying,” he added.

In Europe, the main point of interest will be Wednesday’s second-quarter economic growth figures for the 17-country eurozone. Most analysts think that the region will post modest growth, which will mean it emerged from recession.

Earlier in Asia, a possible upswing in China’s economy helped boost stocks in Hong Kong and on mainland China.

Data released Friday showed a 9.7 percent rise in China’s industrial production for July. Some other indicators such as auto sales also showed improvement. Analysts said the figures added weight to the argument that the recent soft patch in the world’s second-largest economy may have come to an end.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng jumped 2.1 percent to 22,271.28. The Shanghai Composite Index rose 2.4 percent to 2,101.28. The smaller Shenzhen Composite Index rose 1.3 percent to 1,009.13.

Elsewhere, the euro was 0.1 percent lower at $1.3312 while a barrel of benchmark New York crude oil was 9 cents lower at $105.88.

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