TOKYO

FILE PHOTO: Passersby walk past in front of an electronic stock quotation board outside a brokerage in Tokyo
FILE PHOTO: Passersby walk past in front of an electronic stock quotation board outside a brokerage in Tokyo, Japan, September 28, 2018. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

March 21, 2019

By Andrew Galbraith

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Shares in Asia rose on Thursday after the U.S. Federal Reserve took a more accommodative stance at its policy meeting, but concerns over slowing global growth and U.S.-China trade talks are expected to limit gains.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up 0.5 percent in early trade. Australian shares were last down 0.1 percent.

Markets in Japan are closed on Thursday for a public holiday.

The rise in the broad Asian index followed a wobbly session on Wall Street overnight, as growth and trade concerns overcame an initial shift toward more risk-taking sparked by the Fed’s dovish shift.

In comments at the end of a two-day policy meeting Wednesday, the Fed abandoned projections for any interest rate hikes this year amid signs of an economic slowdown, and said it would halt the steady decline of its balance sheet in September.

But while investors cheered the Fed’s new approach, the reasons behind it sparked concern. Lingering worries about China-U.S. trade talks, which are set to resume next week, also weighed on the investment mood, with U.S. President Donald Trump warning that Washington may leave tariffs on Chinese goods for a “substantial period” to ensure Beijing’s compliance with any trade deal.

“What the Fed is doing is trying to engineer a soft landing. What the market is hearing though is things have gotten so weak so quickly … and the earnings outlook is so dire that real money managers don’t want to chase this rally,” Greg McKenna, strategist at McKenna Macro wrote in a morning note to clients.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.55 percent to 25,745.67, the S&P 500 lost 0.29 percent to 2,824.23 and the Nasdaq Composite added less than 0.1 percent to 7,728.97.

The Fed’s comments pushed yields on benchmark U.S. Treasurys lower, with 10-year notes yielding 2.5245 percent compared with a U.S. close of 2.537 percent on Wednesday.

The abandonment of plans for more rate hikes this year pushed the two-year yield, sensitive to expectations of higher Fed fund rates, to 2.3982 percent, down from a U.S. close of 2.4 percent.

After falling on Wednesday, the dollar steadied, with a basket tracking the currency against major rivals flat at 95.910.. It was up a hair against the Japanese currency, buying 110.70 yen.

The euro was up 0.14 percent on the day at $1.1427, while sterling rebounded from a sharp drop Wednesday after British Prime Minister Theresa May asked the EU to delay Brexit until June 30, a shorter extension than some in the market had been expecting. May later said she was “not prepared to delay Brexit any further.”

The pound was up 0.11 percent at $1.3211.

In commodity markets, oil prices, which had jumped Wednesday on supply concerns, retreated.

U.S. crude fell 0.1 percent to $60.17 a barrel after touching four-month highs on Wednesday. Brent crude was a touch lower at $68.47 per barrel.

Gold gained on the weaker dollar, with spot gold up 0.27 percent at $1,315.72 per ounce. [GOL/]

(Reporting by Andrew Galbraith; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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FILE PHOTO: A woman looks at scarves on sale at a department store in Tokyo
FILE PHOTO: A woman looks at scarves on sale at a department store in Tokyo March 30, 2012. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

March 20, 2019

By Ritsuko Ando

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s 24-hour convenience stores are struggling to stay open around the clock as an industry that has continually expanded now finds itself at the sharp end of a labor shortage.

Franchise owners, some of whom were forced to work amid massive snowstorms or in the wake of a family death, have launched a campaign to persuade industry leader 7-Eleven to allow stores to close earlier.

Although the debate has focused on their plight, it has also raised doubts over the future of a $100 billion industry that faces an aging population, slow economic growth and new competitors such as Amazon Prime.

“The question is, how much demand is there for 24-hour service in an age when online shopping is expanding?” said Takayuki Kurabayashi, a Nomura Research Institute partner who specializes in consulting for the retail industry.

Japanese convenience stores began expanding in the 1970s as their 24-hour accessibility proved a perfect match with the country’s dense population and late-night work culture.

The brightly lit stores, which locals call “combini,” are ubiquitous and an essential part of modern Japanese life, offering everything from neckties to packaged “bento” lunches for city workers.

Rural Japanese rely on the stores for parcel and ATM services, or even as lifelines during disasters such as earthquakes.

The franchise system promoted a nationwide expansion that took the total number of stores to roughly 58,000 last year, a majority operated by the big three: 7-Eleven, originating in the U.S. but now Japanese-owned; FamilyMart, UNY Holdings’ convenience store arm; and Lawson, a subsidiary of trading house Mitsubishi Corp.

For years, the franchise model shielded operations from the direct effects of Japan’s labor crunch. But now, the tightest labor market more than 40 years is hurting store owners, who pay salaries after handing over royalty fees.

A union of convenience store owners said they were finding it increasingly hard to hire enough employees. Many owners said they worked long hours themselves to keep stores open 24 hours – a requirement in most franchise contracts.

“At the time of the agreement, we could not foresee the current labor shortage or spike in minimum wages,” said Mitoshi Matsumoto, a union member who owns a 7-Eleven store in Osaka, referring to the deal he and his wife signed with the company.

Struggling to keep the store running after his wife’s death last year, he began closing it for a few hours at night, and was threatened with a fine.

His pleas to management and lawmakers drew widespread sympathy in a country in which “work-life balance” has become a buzzword and employers have come under fire for cases of death by overwork.

Even the pro-business Nikkei newspaper wrote an editorial saying stores should be allowed reasonable working hours even if consumers suffer slight inconveniences.

Amid such pressure, the company said that on Thursday, it would begin testing shorter hours at 10 of its more than 20,700 stores. It emphasized that the change was experimental and that it was not yet altering its 24-7 format.

SATURATION AND INNOVATION

Roy Larke, who analyses Japan’s retail industry as editor of JapanConsuming.com, said he sees the sector as saturated and consolidation inevitable.

“We do have too many convenience stores now, sometimes literally next door to each other. There are probably around 10 percent too many,” he said.

Katsuhiko Shimizu, spokesman for Seven & i Holdings which owns 7-Eleven and general merchandise chain Ito-Yokado, disagreed.

“There’s room for innovation,” he said, citing the company’s efforts to incorporate more automation and artificial intelligence in processes ranging from stocking to check-out.

Chains are also testing new formats such as outlets that combine drugstores, dry cleaners and even gyms. FamilyMart has opened some such stores with the country’s largest discount chain, Don Quijote, to inject excitement.

Analysts warn against underestimating a sector known for maintaining high margins and rarely discounting, helped by constant product renewals and staples like 100-yen (90-cent) coffees.

They also say it’s too early to predict the outcome of Japan’s online grocery delivery race, which is only getting started.

Although Amazon’s grocery and same-day delivery services are considered threats, convenience stores are also launching online platforms; their affiliations with traditional supermarkets and logistics networks are seen as advantages.

“It’s not clear-cut whether Amazon will be overwhelmingly powerful here,” said Larke. “Especially in food, it doesn’t have the game to itself.”

Convenience stores, like other Japanese businesses, have also been expanding abroad. But Nomura Research’s Kurabayashi warned that those foreign markets, including China, were also aging.

“What’s happening in Japan is eventually going to happen elsewhere in Asia,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time.”

(Reporting by Ritsuko Ando; Editing by Gerry Doyle)

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FILE PHOTO: Tennis: BNP Paribas Open-Day 9
FILE PHOTO: Mar 12, 2019; Indian Wells, CA, USA; Naomi Osaka (JPN) reacts after being defeated in her fourth round match against Belinda Bencic (not pictured) in the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

March 20, 2019

By Steve Keating

MIAMI (Reuters) – World number one Naomi Osaka arrived at the Miami Open on Wednesday to face questions about a multi-million dollar lawsuit for allegedly failing to honor a contract with a former coach.

According to the lawsuit filed in Florida’s state court on Feb. 7 and seen by Reuters, Christophe Jean says he began coaching Osaka and older sister Mari in 2011.

Jean says he entered into a services contract with their father Francois in March 2012 that would pay him 20 percent of Osaka’s future earnings.

Osaka’s attorney Alex Spiro described the lawsuit as a “false claim” that has no merit.

Osaka, who has enjoyed a meteoric rise and won the last two grand slams to reach number one in the world, has career earnings of $10.8 million and has made millions more in endorsements.

Jean says that he signed a contract that would pay him a share of Osaka’s future earnings as her family were unable to pay the going rate for coaching.

Asked about the lawsuit during her pre-tournament news conference Osaka, who grew up less than three miles from Hard Rock Stadium, the new home of the Miami Open, said: “I’m not allowed to say anything. I am unable to make a comment.”

Spiro, however, said Jean was an opportunist looking to cash in.

“While it comes as no surprise that Naomi’s meteoric rise as an international icon and inspiration would lead to some false claim, this silly “contract” that Naomi never saw or signed — which purports to give away part of herself at the age of 14 — is particularly absurd,” Spiro told Reuters in an email. “This case has no merit and we will move past it.”

The 21-year-old U.S.-based Japanese player raised eyebrows last month when she announced she was parting with coach Sascha Bajin, who guided her to the Australian and U.S. Open titles.

That split, however, appeared amicable with both Osaka and Bajin wishing each other the best for the future.

(Additional reporting by Jack Tarrant in Tokyo and Frank Pingue in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)

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MLB: Spring Training-Seattle Mariners at Yomiuri Giants
Mar 17, 2019; Tokyo, Japan; Seattle Mariners right fielder Domingo Santana (16) flips his helmet in the air after being picked off of second base during the fifth inning against the Seattle Mariners at Tokyo Dome. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

March 20, 2019

TOKYO – Domingo Santana led an offensive barrage with an opposite field grand slam and the Seattle Mariners topped the Oakland Athletics 9-7 in the first game of the 2019 regular season in the Tokyo Dome.

A sellout crowd of 45,787 clamoring to see what is likely Ichiro Suzuki’s final pro appearance in Japan was treated to an offensive showcase in the first of a two-game series. The Mariners and A’s combined for 16 hits and five home runs, including a game-changing grand slam from Santana in his Mariners debut.

“Any time someone comes up with a big clutch hit, we score some runs, that’s a huge deal,” Mariners right-hander Marco Gonzales said. “You can see that once this team starts going, once we start firing it’s kind of a domino effect. Seeing him get things going for us in a big way.”

Santana inside-outed an 0-1 pitch, sneaking it inside the right-field foul pole to clear the bases and put Seattle on top 5-2 in the top of the third. The blast capped a five-run inning, and the Mariners would not relinquish the lead.

Khris Davis brought Oakland back within 5-4 on the first pitch he saw in the bottom of the third, blasting a line-drive, two-run home to left-center field. It was Oakland’s second home run of the night after Stephen Piscotty opened the power show in the first inning.

The Mariners tacked on runs in the fourth and fifth innings. Tim Beckham crushed a two-run home run to left field the very next at-bat to eventually put Seattle ahead 9-4.

The bulb flashes of cameras started immediately when Ichiro walked to the on-deck circle in the top of the third. The crowd roared during his two plate appearances, and when he made his exit in the fourth inning, coming out with the position players only to turn around and return to the dugout. He was replaced by Daniel Vogelbach.

“Ichiro will play in the game tomorrow. Not sure if he will start but he will get out there at some point,” manager Scott Servais said. “With Ichiro’s situation coming into this series certainly wanted to give him an opportunity to play, but we also wanted to give other players an opportunity to get into the game and do what’s best for the team.”

Servais said the Mariners are going one day at a time deciding whether Ichiro would make the 25-man roster when the team returns to the U.S.

Matt Chapman brought Oakland back with a three-run home run, the game’s fifth homer, in the seventh inning off of Nick Rumbelow to make it 9-7.

Hunter Strickland finished off the A’s 1-2-3 in the bottom of the ninth, fanning Chapman to earn the save in his debut for the Mariners.

Mike Fiers took the loss for the A’s. He lasted three innings in his debut as Oakland’s opening day ace, pitching through Seattle’s five-run third inning but not coming out for the fourth.

“It was not a good job by me,” Fiers said of his outing and giving up a 2-1 lead on Santana’s blast.

He faced only seven batters his first two innings and threw only 22 pitches, but faded in the third inning and was chased after 58 pitches.

Gonzales fared better on the other side in his debut as pitching staff ace for the Mariners, going six innings, giving up three earned runs, striking out four and walking one. He exited with the lead despite giving up runs each of the first three innings, but settling down and facing only 10 batters his final three frames.

–By Sean Kramer, Field Level Media

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Idemitsu Kosan Co. Chief Executive Officer Takashi Tsukioka attends a news conference in Tokyo, Japan
FILE PHOTO: Idemitsu Kosan Co. Chief Executive Officer Takashi Tsukioka attends a news conference with Showa Shell Sekiyu Chief Executive Officer Tsuyoshi Kameoka (not in picture) in Tokyo, Japan, October 13, 2016. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

March 20, 2019

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese refiners will unlikely continue to import oil from Iran from April unless Japan gets a sanctions waivers extension from the U.S. government, Takashi Tsukioka, president of the Petroleum Association of Japan (PAJ), said on Wednesday.

The PAJ head said he believes the government is negotiating with the United States to get such a waiver and that PAJ would support this effort.

Japanese refiners have been asking the government to seek an extension of the U.S. sanctions waivers after the initial 180-day exemption period is over in early May. [nL3N1ZO2R2]

Japanese officials and their U.S. counterparts met last week in Washington to discuss the U.S. sanctions on Iran, according to a statement from Japan’s foreign ministry.

“Japan has told the U.S. that the sanctions should not negatively affect Japan’s stable supply of energy and Japanese companies’ operations,” an official at Japan’s industry ministry said, although declining to comment on the result of the talks.

Asked if Japan will extend sovereign ship insurance to import Iranian oil to the financial year that starts on April 1, PAJ’s Tsukioka said: “We understand the insurance is due to roll-over. We are just waiting for an announcement.”

Tsukioka had said in November, shortly after the U.S. sanctions waivers had been granted, that it was unclear whether the government would extend sovereign ship insurance into the new financial year.

(Reporting by Yuka Obayashi; Editing by Tom Hogue)

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FILE PHOTO: Former Nissan Motor Chairman Carlos Ghosn sits inside the car as he leaves his lawyer's office after being released on bail from Tokyo Detention House, in Tokyo
FILE PHOTO: Former Nissan Motor Chairman Carlos Ghosn sits inside the car as he leaves his lawyer’s office after being released on bail from Tokyo Detention House, in Tokyo, Japan, March 6, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo

March 20, 2019

By Norihiko Shirouzu

YOKOHAMA, Japan (Reuters) – In September 2007, despite weighty responsibilities at the helm of Nissan Motor Co and alliance partner Renault SA, Carlos Ghosn found time to get involved in a seemingly straightforward business decision.

Two days before Nissan’s executive committee was due to formalize the choice of a company called TVS as a partner for sales and marketing in India, Ghosn threw his weight behind a different firm: Hover Automotive India Pvt Ltd, four company sources with knowledge of the matter said.

Hover had been a candidate but was knocked out of the running because it had been deemed insufficiently experienced in automotive distribution and marketing, they said. However, its founder and chairman, Moez Mangalji, was a close family friend of Ghosn’s, the sources added.

A Nissan executive wrote to the team preparing for the committee meeting saying it was Ghosn’s wish that Hover be recommended over TVS, two of the sources said, adding that this was enough to ensure Hover got the job.

The incident is part of Nissan’s wide-ranging probe into what it calls years of serious misconduct by Ghosn. There is no evidence of Ghosn benefiting from the decision but it is an example of conduct investigators believe helped his friends at Nissan’s expense, the two sources added.

A spokesman for Ghosn said the former Nissan chairman did not intervene on behalf of Hover, that Hover met key criteria to launch the distribution business, and all partnership decisions were made by Nissan’s executive committee.

“The baseless accusations against Mr. Ghosn and steady stream of leaks from certain Nissan executives are a transparent and dishonorable attempt to smear Mr. Ghosn’s reputation, destabilize and reset the balance of power in the Alliance, and distract from Nissan’s alarming performance,” the statement from Ghosn’s spokesman said.

The spokesman declined repeated requests by Reuters to be identified, citing the “sensitive nature of the topics.”

A representative for Mangalji said Hover employed experts with substantial experience and “that at no point was Hover aware of any special treatment on its behalf by Mr Ghosn or anyone else.”

Ghosn would continue to back Hover even after Nissan dealers in India began protesting in 2012 to executives about a collapse in sales, according to the sources, who declined to be identified, citing the sensitivity of the subject.

Those protests grew in 2013, with some groups representing Nissan’s India dealers sending letters to senior executives, imploring them to step in, and Nissan ultimately dropped Hover as a partner the next year.

An internal Nissan document that summarizes some of the decision-making around the choice of Hover and which one source said was created in 2014, was also reviewed by Reuters.

Company insiders say the Hover episode was a defining moment for some managers inside Nissan, leading them to question the agenda of a man who had been universally lauded for bringing Nissan back from the brink of bankruptcy.

At the same time, the sources acknowledge there was little resistance among the executive committee and other management to Ghosn’s support for Hover and one other dealership decision in the Middle East that had raised eyebrows within Nissan.

“In so many ways it was assumed that what he said would not need to be questioned. That applies to just about every decision he made,” one of the sources said.

TOO MUCH POWER

Looking back at Ghosn’s reign, it is clear that too much power was concentrated in one man, and that management did not do enough, Nissan Chief Executive Hiroto Saikawa told employees in a town hall meeting one week after Ghosn’s Nov. 19 arrest.

“For 19 years, management, myself included, we allowed his high-handedness, allowed wrongdoings, and regret for that is what I think we all feel,” he said, according to a copy of his speech reviewed by Reuters.

“Our biggest and most urgent task….is to undo the negative legacy that resulted from years of Ghosn’s leadership and corporate governance,” he added.

Last week, Nissan and major shareholder Renault said they would break up the all-powerful chairmanship position held by Ghosn, with the chairman of Renault serving as head of the alliance but not as chairman of Nissan.

An external committee is due to make recommendations this month on changing Nissan’s corporate governance including procedures for executive appointments and compensation.

The re-evaluation of Ghosn’s legacy is also driving a broader shift in Nissan’s strategy, particularly Ghosn’s practice of setting ambitious objectives for sales and profitability called ‘commitments’, where managers were held to account if they were not delivered.

“If you couldn’t meet them then you’d be in trouble, those numerical targets came to feel like threats,” Saikawa told the town hall meeting. “Now, we have to change this, work out something that is healthier.”

PLETHORA OF ACCUSATIONS

Not until 2017 did a lone internal auditor, Hidetoshi Imazu, discreetly start making checks into dealings that Nissan now says were orchestrated by Ghosn.

Imazu had been aware of queries by Nissan’s external auditor Ernst & Young ShinNihon LLC about the purpose of a Dutch unit Zi-A Capital, according to one source. Payments for Nissan-owned luxury apartments used by Ghosn were made through Zi-A Capital and its units, sources have previously said.

Imazu’s concerns also followed a June 2017 Reuters report https://www.reuters.com/article/us-renault-nissan-bonuses/exclusive-renault-nissan-considers-hidden-bonus-plan-documents-idUSKBN1941FU that Renault-Nissan alliance bankers had drawn up plans to pay millions of dollars in undisclosed bonuses to Ghosn and other managers through a separate Dutch unit, the source said.

Saikawa would only learn of the probe around October last year after Imazu and Hari Nada, head of Nissan’s CEO office and an ally Imazu later teamed up with, had turned their findings over to prosecutors, two sources said.

Nissan declined to make Imazu, Nada and Saikawa available for comment on this article.

Tokyo prosecutors have accused Ghosn of under-reporting $82 million in compensation for 2010-2018 – pay he had arranged to receive after his retirement.

He has also been charged with temporarily shifting personal losses to Nissan after a foreign exchange contract went sour and improperly steering $14.7 million in Nissan funds to a firm owned by Saudi businessman Khaled Al-Juffali.

Ghosn has said he is innocent and believed the compensation arrangements had been vetted by experts. Both Ghosn and the Khaled Juffali Company have asserted the $14.7 million in payments were for legitimate business purposes.

“Mr. Ghosn is innocent of the charges brought against him and he will be vindicated,” the statement from Ghosn’s spokesman said.

Nissan investigators continue to pursue a number of other leads with the probe expanding as whistleblowers come forward, one source said.

The alleged schemes took so long to come to light, sources with knowledge of the probe said, due to Ghosn’s practice of conveying his wishes verbally to trusted lieutenants rather than in writing. Many payments were made via the ‘CEO Reserve’, a budget for unplanned expenses, and were made through unconsolidated units which did not require vetting by the CFO or external auditors, they said.

In addition to the case involving Juffali, one key focus of the automaker’s probe is a sum of more than $30 million in Nissan funds Ghosn arranged to have transferred via the CEO Reserve to a Nissan distributor in Oman owned by businessman Suhail Bahwan and whether the money was used to repay personal debt, the sources said.

Ghosn’s spokesman said payments of $32 million made over nine years were rewards for the Bahwan firm being a top Nissan dealer. Such dealer incentives were not directed by the CEO and the funds were not used to pay any personal debt for Ghosn, the spokesman added.

One of the Nissan sources countered that dealer rewards were a planned event each year and were not paid via the CEO Reserve.

A spokesman for Bahwan did not respond to requests for comment.

The probe is also looking at the amount of money spent on Nissan-owned residences in Paris, Beirut and Rio de Janeiro and how the payments were made through units.

Ghosn’s spokesman said officials at Nissan, including Saikawa and Nada, had been aware of and had approved of the provision of the residences.

Investigators are also examining payments to Ghosn’s sister, Claudine Bichara de Oliveira, for what two sources describe as a fictitious job advising on global donation activities.

Those payments date back to 2003 and total nearly $700,000 through 2016, documents seen by Reuters show.

An internal Nissan letter dated March 27, 2003 shows Ghosn asked Oliveira if she would work for Nissan’s global donation advisory council and that she signed the agreement. A source said, however, there was no evidence that the council existed.

The spokesman, who also represents Ghosn’s sister, said appropriate officials had approved the contract with the sister, and that Nissan officials opposed to Ghosn were attacking his family with false accusations.

(Reporting by Norihiko Shirouzu; Additional reporting by Gary McWilliams in Houston, Tuqa Khalid in Dubai and Tim Kelly in Tokyo; Editing by Joe White and Edwina Gibbs)

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FILE PHOTO: Former Nissan Motor Chairman Carlos Ghosn leaves from his residence in Tokyo
FILE PHOTO: Former Nissan Motor Chairman Carlos Ghosn leaves from his residence in Tokyo, Japan, March 8, 2019, in this photo taken by Kyodo. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

March 20, 2019

TOKYO (Reuters) – The trial of former Nissan Motor Co boss Carlos Ghosn on charges of under-reporting his salary is expected to start in September, public broadcaster NHK said on Wednesday.

Ghosn was released on $9 million bail earlier in March after spending more than 100 days in a Tokyo detention center. He faces charges of under-reporting his salary at Nissan by about $82 million over nearly a decade.

Ghosn has said the charges are “meritless”.

He was stripped of the role of Nissan chairman but remains a board member.

(Reporting by Stanley White; Editing by David Dolan)

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FILE PHOTO: A man makes his way in a business district in Tokyo
FILE PHOTO: A man makes his way in a business district in Tokyo, Japan May 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo

March 20, 2019

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s government downgraded its assessment of the economy in March for the first time in three years, blaming a bruising U.S.-China trade war for slumping exports and industrial output.

The Cabinet Office, which helps coordinate government policy, said on Wednesday the economy is in gradual recovery, but exports and output are showing signs of weakness.

The monthly economic report for March was a downgrade from February, when the Cabinet Office simply said the economy is in gradual recovery.

The March report gave a pessimistic outlook, saying this bout of weakness could continue for some time in the future.

The downbeat assessment could fuel calls for the government to delay a nationwide sales tax hike scheduled for October, and increase speculation that the Bank of Japan (BOJ) will take some steps to bolster economic growth.

Exports fell for a third straight month in February and industrial output in January saw its sharpest decline in a year as tit-for-tat tariffs between Washington and Beijing slowed China’s economy and reduced demand for mobile phone parts and chip-making equipment from Japan.

The Cabinet Office downgraded its assessment of industrial production for the second consecutive month, saying it has shown signs of weakness and flatlined.

Despite the damage from the trade war, Japan’s economy should continue to grow moderately because consumer spending and capital expenditure are holding up, a Cabinet Office official told reporters at a briefing.

For March, the government left unchanged its assessment that consumer spending is recovering and capital expenditure is increasing.

However, there are concerns that companies will start cutting capital expenditure plans for fiscal 2019 in April due to uncertainty about global trade policy.

Japan’s manufacturing sector is exposed to the trade war because it sends electronic parts and capital goods to China, where they are used to make finished products destined for the United States.

The government is scheduled to raise the nationwide sales tax to 10 percent from 8 percent in October, but there are concerns this will weaken consumer spending and harm growth.

The BOJ last week cut its view on exports and output, but left its radical easing policy unchanged.

(Reporting by Stanley White; editing by Darren Schuettler)

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FILE PHOTO: Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks to media after phone talks with U.S. President Donald Trump after second North Korea-U.S. summit, in Tokyo
FILE PHOTO: Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks to media after phone talks with U.S. President Donald Trump (not pictured) after second North Korea-U.S. summit, at Abe’s residence in Tokyo, Japan February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato

March 20, 2019

By Leika Kihara

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Wednesday he sees the central bank’s inflation target as a means to achieve the more important goal of reviving the economy, in a sign that firing up inflation may no longer be a priority for the government.

The premier’s comments followed those from Finance Minister Taro Aso, who warned the Bank of Japan last week against insisting on hitting its price goal.

Abe defended the BOJ for missing its 2 percent inflation target, telling parliament that the government gives a passing grade to its policies for boosting jobs and economic growth.

“The BOJ’s price target is not only a target but a means to revive the economy,” Abe told parliament, adding the priority for many central banks across the globe, including the BOJ, was to spur growth and create more jobs.

“With monetary policy, you can create jobs and put an end to deflation. In doing so, you need an inflation target of 2 percent,” Abe said.

“In achieving our fundamental goal of spurring growth, (the BOJ’s policies) have had a sufficient effect,” he said.

Abe’s views contrast with remarks by BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda, who have consistently said achieving the bank’s price target was its priority.

Speaking at the same parliament committee, Kuroda said the central bank was ready to ramp up stimulus if the economy loses momentum for hitting his price target.

With inflation distant from its target, the BOJ is struggling to balance the need to drive up inflation and address the rising cost of prolonged easing such as the hit to bank profits from years of ultra-low interest rates.

As heightening overseas risks such as trade protectionism threaten Japan’s fragile economic recovery, BOJ policymakers disagreed on the next policy move at their January rate review, according to minutes of the meeting released on Wednesday.

Abe reiterated that the government hopes the BOJ keeps up efforts to achieve its inflation target, with an eye on economic, price and financial developments.

The premier said there was no inconsistency between his views and those of Aso, who said last week that “things could go wrong” if the BOJ insisted too much on achieving its price goal.

(Reporting by Leika Kihara; Editing by Kim Coghill)

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ISU World Figure Skating Championships - Saitama Super Arena, Saitama, Japan
ISU World Figure Skating Championships – Saitama Super Arena, Saitama, Japan – March 20, 2019. Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov of Russia in action during the Pairs Short Program. REUTERS/Issei Kato

March 20, 2019

By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) – Russian pair Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov took a commanding lead after the short program at the World Figure Skating Championships in Saitama on Wednesday after a fall left French favorites Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres in seventh.

James and Cipres, undefeated this season and the first French pair to win the European Championship in over 80 years, went down when James botched the landing on their throw triple flip and fell to the ice.

James later said a collision with Italy’s Matteo Guarise during the warm-up prior to their performance had rattled her.

“I didn’t see Matteo, Matteo didn’t see me so we crashed and I fell,” she told the International Skating Union (ISU). “It took me off a little and I was not very comfortable after. I felt a little dizzy, so I tried to stay focused.

“It was a bad skate for us today, and with the fall it was very tiring after.”

Tarasova and Morozov, who placed fourth at the 2018 Winter Olympics and second at last year’s worlds, renewed their season’s best score with 81.21 points in a dramatic, dynamic routine that had the audience clapping along at the Saitama Super Arena, just north of Tokyo.

“During the European Championships we had the same mistake both in short and free programs. Therefore, now we had to train harder not to allow this to happen anymore,” Tarasova said. “We decided to make everything at our maximum.”

James and Cipres were on 68.67 points after their routine, in which Cipres also made an uncharacteristic error when he doubled a toeloop.

“I don’t know what happened,” he said. “The season was long, we were not good on the ice today. It was not our moment, not our day.”

Sui Wenjing and Han Cong of China, who have had an injury-plagued season, were second on 79.24 after delivering a graceful routine, with compatriots Peng Cheng and Jin Yang in third with 75.51.

“While we had several mistakes at the beginning of the program, otherwise the score would be above 80 points, we still performed our best, and we would like to skate well in the free program as well,” Sui said.

The pairs winner will be decided on Thursday with the free program. The championship competitions last until March 23.

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Joe Torre testifies before Senate Committee on Commerce Science and Transportation on domestic violence in professional sports in Washington
FILE PHOTO: Joe Torre, Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations (MLB), testifies before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on domestic violence in professional sports in Washington December 2, 2014. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

March 20, 2019

By Jack Tarrant

TOKYO (Reuters) – Major League Baseball is concerned at strikeouts surpassing the number of hits and needs more balls in play to arrest the dip in popularity, the league’s chief baseball officer Joe Torre said on Wednesday.

Last season was the first in the league’s history to feature more strikeouts than hits, leading to calls for changes to increase interest.

Average attendance for regular season games in 2018 fell four percent from the previous year to 28,830 per game, according to MLB, while the total number of fans who showed up at the ballpark fell below 70 million for the first time since 2003.

Speaking ahead of the MLB season opener in Tokyo on Wednesday, Torre said the league needs to create more balls in play.

“I am concerned with our game because whenever you go through a season and there are more strikeouts than hits, then it is a concern to me,” said Torre, who led the New York Yankees to four World Series titles as a coach.

“To me the excitement of baseball, to watch the game and manage the game, is to have enough balls in play and we don’t have enough balls in play.”

According to NBC Sports, hitters were sent back to the dugout 41,207 times and recorded 41,019 safeties in 2018.

“We need to put the ball in play more,” said the 78-year-old Torre, who works as liaison between the MLB and its 30 clubs.

“Everyone is throwing 98-99 mph, everyone is trying to strike people out… it is all a concern to me.”

The Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics will start the new MLB season in the Tokyo Dome later on Wednesday and have been playing exhibition games as part of the league’s plan to spread the game in Asia.

“What has been great about the exhibition games here is that there has been a lot going on; players on bases, running the bases and that is exciting to me,” continued Torre.

“That is when the game is going to pick up pace, when we dare the hitters to hit the ball as opposed to trying to get them to miss the ball.”

(Reporting by Jack Tarrant; editing by Sudipto Ganguly)

Source: OANN

A sign board of Bank of Japan is displayed at the headquarters in Tokyo
A sign board of Bank of Japan is displayed at the headquarters in Tokyo, Japan January 23, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato

March 20, 2019

By Leika Kihara

TOKYO (Reuters) – Bank of Japan policymakers disagreed on how quickly the central bank should ramp up monetary stimulus, minutes of their January rate review showed on Wednesday, as heightening overseas risks threatened to derail the country’s fragile economic recovery.

While most members agreed it was appropriate to maintain the BOJ’s current stimulus program, one of them said the central bank must stress its readiness to take “quick, flexible and bold” action including additional easing, the minutes showed.

“Given the timing of achieving the price target had been delayed, it was undesirable to adopt a stance of not taking action until a serious crisis occurred,” the member was quoted as saying in the minutes.

Another member, however, said acting too hastily during times of uncertainty could lead to financial imbalances and unnecessary swings in the economy, the minutes showed.

Some in the nine-member board also warned that an increasing number of regional banks could be taking excessive risks to secure profits as years of ultra-low interest rates hurt their bottom line, the minutes showed.

“We need to look carefully at whether regional banks are lending in a way where they are earning returns that meet the risks,” one of the members said.

The BOJ kept monetary settings unchanged at the January meeting, pledging to guide short-term rates at minus 0.1 percent and 10-year bond yields around zero under a policy dubbed yield curve control (YCC).

YCC IMPACT UNDER DOUBT

The BOJ faces a dilemma. Years of heavy money printing for asset purchases have dried up market liquidity and hurt commercial banks’ profits, stoking concern over the rising risks of prolonged easing.

And yet, subdued inflation has left the BOJ well behind other major central banks in dialing back crisis-mode policies, leaving it with little ammunition to battle the next recession.

In an interview with Reuters on Monday, Isao Kubota, the influential chairman of a major regional bank, said the BOJ’s ultra-loose policy is making it tough for commercial banks to earn profits out of lending.

“We are in the sixth year of this policy and, I think intuitively, the accumulation of the side-effects might be enormous,” Kubota said.

With weakening global demand hurting Japan’s export-reliant economy, the board debated the effectiveness of the current program in lifting prices.

One member said the BOJ’s YCC policy has had only a limited impact in boosting prices and inflation expectations.

“This member said further analysis and consideration were needed on the relationships between inflation and the levels of interest rates or monetary base,” according to the minutes.

A few policymakers saw room for more policy coordination with the government if overseas risks deal a severe blow to Japan’s economy, the minutes showed.

While the minutes do not identify the name of the board members who made the comments, BOJ’s Goushi Kataoka has publicly said stronger fiscal and monetary steps could be necessary to prevent a further economic slowdown.

Deputy Governor Masazumi Wakatabe is also considered by markets as among reflationist-minded members of the BOJ board.

Many in the BOJ are clinging to hopes that Japan’s economy will emerge from the current soft patch in the second half of this year. But if conditions continue to deteriorate, the BOJ could face pressure to offer additional monetary support, analysts say.

Yet, BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda has ruled out the chance of additional monetary easing over the near term. A well-known fiscal hawk, he also warned against the idea that government can spend recklessly to pull the economy out of the doldrums.

(Reporting by Leika Kihara; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim & Shri Navaratnam)

Source: OANN

A man walks past an electronic stock quotation board outside a brokerage in Tokyo
A man walks past an electronic stock quotation board outside a brokerage in Tokyo, Japan, November 13, 2018. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

March 20, 2019

By Hideyuki Sano

TOKYO (Reuters) – Asian shares got off to a cautious start on Wednesday, holding close to six-month highs on hopes the U.S. Federal Reserve will stick to a dovish stance and unveil a plan to stop cutting bond holdings later this year.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan ticked down 0.1 percent from a six-month high touched the previous day. Japan’s Nikkei was also down 0.1 percent.

Wall Street shares were narrowly mixed on Tuesday, with the S&P 500 losing 0.01 percent and the Nasdaq adding 0.12 percent.

The Federal Reserve, which is wrapping up its two-day policy review later on Wednesday, is expected to lower its policymakers’ rate projections from December, when their median expectations were for two rate hikes this year.

Since the beginning of year, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has said the central bank would be patient – interpreted as code word for holding off on a rate hike – on signs of slowing economic growth in the United States and many parts of the world.

Financial markets have gone even further by pricing in a rate cut this year. Fed funds futures point to about a 30 percent chance of a cut by the end of year.

The Fed is also expected to lay out a plan to stop shrinking its $4 trillion balance sheet, or so-called quantitative tightening. Many policy makers have suggested the Fed is likely to conclude the process and stabilize its bond holdings by the end of this year.

“I think market consensus centers around an end in September but we expect the Fed to end its balance sheet rolloff in June, at around $3.85 trillion yen, based on our calculations on the amount of excess reserves the Fed will need,” said Shuji Shirota, head of macroeconomic strategy at HSBC Securities in Tokyo.

Expectations of a dovish Fed have dented the U.S. dollar, which has already been under pressure this year after Powell all but signaled a pause to the tightening cycle at the previous meeting.

The dollar’s index against a basket of six major currencies hit 2 1/2-week low of 96.288 on Tuesday and last stood at 96.390.

The euro traded at $1.1354, near Tuesday’s two-week high of $1.1362.

The dollar fetched 111.41 yen, slipping from Friday’s nine-day high of 111.90.

The British pound remained hostage to headlines on Brexit.

Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to ask the European Union to delay Brexit by at least three months after her plan to hold a third vote on her deal was thrown into disarray by a surprise intervention from the speaker of parliament.

May had earlier warned parliament that if it did not ratify her deal, she would ask to delay Brexit beyond June 30, a step that Brexit’s advocates fear would endanger the entire divorce.

On the other hand, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has said an extension would only make sense if it increased the chances of May’s deal being ratified by Britain’s House of Commons.

Sterling last stood flat at $1.3265, off its nine-month peak of $1.3380 hit a week ago.

Market players held on to hopes of a trade deal between Washington and Beijing as officials from both sides remained locked in negotiations.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin plan to travel to China next week for another round of trade talks with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, a Trump administration official said on Tuesday.

Oil prices held close to four-month highs on expectations that OPEC would continue production cuts through the end of the year and after data from the American Petroleum Institute (API) showed a surprise draw-down on crude inventories.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures stood flat at $59.02 per barrel after touching its highest since November at $59.57 on Tuesday.

(Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Lockheed Martin's logo is seen during Japan Aerospace 2016 air show in Tokyo
FILE PHOTO: Lockheed Martin’s logo is seen during Japan Aerospace 2016 air show in Tokyo, Japan, October 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo

March 19, 2019

BERLIN (Reuters) – A German military helicopter tender likely to be fought out between U.S. arms makers Lockheed Martin and Boeing will get “mandatory” funding of 1.61 billion euros ($1.8 billion) under German budget plans, a government document shows.

Some lawmakers and industry officials had worried that the long-awaited tender could be postponed because Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen secured only half the 4 billion euro increase in military spending she had sought for 2020.

However the document, which is due to be approved by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet this week, singled out the heavy-lift helicopter as the only major arms program on a list of “mandatory elements” of a new four-year budget plan.

The helicopter program is expected to cost Germany around 4 billion euros ($4.54 billion) in the longer term, a rich prize for the winning bidder.

Germany’s defense ministry has previously said it expects to choose either of two U.S. helicopter models, the twin-rotor CH-47 Chinook helicopter built by Boeing, or the new CH-53K King Stallion built by Lockheed’s Sikorsky helicopter unit.

Procurement of the 45-60 helicopters will continue beyond 2023, which is why the four-year plan budgets for a smaller sum.

The Defence Ministry issued a pre-solicitation notice for the new helicopter in February, saying it expected to issue a formal request for proposals in the second half of 2019.

A ministry spokesman declined to comment on the finance ministry document or any specific funding requests.

“We’re at the beginning of the process,” he said.

German government officials will debate and refine the budget request in coming months, and changes are possible, but the fact that the helicopter program was designated mandatory should prevent a postponement of the program, experts said.

Another big arms project that was to be launched this year, an 8 billion euro MEADS missile-defense system, to be built by Europe’s MBDA, owned by Airbus, Italy’s Leonardo and Britain’s BAE Systems, and Lockheed, was not included on the mandatory funding list.

Also absent were four new multi-role MKS 180 warships expected to cost 4.5 billion euros ($5.11 billion), along with a option for two additional ships.

(Reporting by Andreas Rinke, Andrea Shalal and Sabine Siebold; Editing by Alexander Smith)

Source: OANN

Container cranes are pictured at the Port of Singapore
FILE PHOTO: Container cranes are pictured at the Port of Singapore, June 10, 2018. REUTERS/Feline Lim

March 19, 2019

By Jonathan Saul and Nina Chestney

LONDON (Reuters) – More ports around the world are banning ships from using a fuel cleaning system that pumps waste water into the sea, one of the cheapest options for meeting new environmental shipping rules.

The growing number of destinations imposing stricter regulations than those set by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) are expected to be a costly headache for cruise and shipping firms as they face tough market conditions and slowing world trade. They might have to pay for new equipment and extra types of fuel and adjust their routes.

Singapore, China and Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates have already banned the use of the cleaning systems, called open loop scrubbers, from the start of next year when the new IMO rules come into force.

Reuters has learned that individual ports in Finland, Lithuania, Ireland and Russia, have all banned or restricted such equipment, according to interviews with officials and reviews of documents by Reuters. One British port has occasionally imposed restrictions.

Norway is also working on open loop scrubber bans around its world heritage fjords, an official with the climate and environment ministry told Reuters. A ban on all types of scrubbers is also proposed, the official added.

The IMO rules will prohibit ships from using fuels with sulfur content above 0.5 percent, unless they are equipped with exhaust gas cleaning systems. The open loop scrubbers wash out the sulfur and some industry experts believe they are the cheapest way to meet the new global rules.

Companies that invested in open loop scrubbers will be unable to use them while sailing through those port waters. They also fear the IMO rules could change again and ban open loop scrubbers altogether.

The world’s top cruise operator Carnival Corporation has invested over $500 million to deploy the devices.

Carnival’s Mike Kaczmarek, senior vice president for marine technology and refit with oversight of the group’s scrubbers program, said the port moves were “very troubling”.

“The more ports that participate in this, the greater the (economic) impact,” he said.

“A lot of people out there…in good faith have made significant investments.”

Ships with open loop scrubbers docking or sailing through those ports would need to store waste in tanks until it could be discharged elsewhere or avoid the ports.

The other option is to use a scrubber with a “closed loop”, which stores the waste until it can be treated on land. There are also hybrid scrubbers with a loop that can be open or closed.

Ship owners could also choose another energy source such as low sulfur fuel or liquefied natural gas (LNG). Some experts say there will be enough low sulfur fuel available to avoid fitting scrubbers.

Data from Norwegian risk management and certification company DNV GL shows there will be a total of 2,693 ships running with scrubbers by the end of 2019 – based on current orders – and over 80 percent of them will be open loop devices, compared with 15 percent using hybrid scrubbers and 2 percent opting for closed loop scrubbers.

REGULATORY UNCERTAINTY

Initial research to date into the environmental impact of open loop scrubbers has produced a range of results. The ports and authorities that have banned them have acted in anticipation of studies that conclusively show the discharge is harmful, environmental groups say.

International regulation often lags local action and the IMO rules were agreed in 2016 after years of tense discussions.

An official with Sweden’s Gothenburg port said it recommended shipowners in their waters not to use open loop scrubbers as a precautionary principle to “avoid discharges of scrubber wash water in coastal waters and port areas”.

Businesses are waiting to see if the IMO rules will change.

“What is terrible for business is uncertainty in regulation and changes which are not broadcast well in advance,” said Hamish Norton, president of dry bulk shipping group Star Bulk Carriers, among the biggest investors in scrubbers.

Jurisdictions that have not imposed restrictions are also watching closely.

The IMO encouraged member states in February to research the impact of scrubbers on the environment. An IMO spokeswoman said it was up to countries to make any proposal to tighten scrubber regulation, which would need consensus approval by its 174 member states.

The 28 European Union countries submitted a paper to the IMO which said the use of open loop scrubbers was “expected to lead to a degradation of the marine environment due to the toxicity of water discharges”. It said it wanted to see “harmonization of rules and guidance”.

A separate paper submitted to the IMO, commissioned by Panama – the world’s top ship registration state – and conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said more scientific investigation was needed.

THE FRONT PAGE TEST

A number of jurisdictions without bans, including Gibraltar, South Korea and Australia said they were investigating.

“We will study to find out how harmful it is to oceans and then consider what actions we can take,” said an official with South Korea’s Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries.

“If the IMO sets out a guideline on this, we will comply.”

Others are pushing back. Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, said it concluded in research last year that there was little impact on the marine environment from scrubber water discharges.

Carnival said a study it commissioned concluded that scrubbers were safe and discharges were over 90 percent lower than maximum allowable levels in various waters.

Nevertheless, many in the industry expect the rules to change.

Ivar Hansson Myklebust, chief executive with Hoegh Autoliners, said at a recent Marine Money conference the vehicle transporter was not ordering any scrubbers.

“The (open loop) scrubbers have a hard time passing the front page test taking pollutants from the air and dumping it into the sea,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Gary McWilliams in Houston, Gederts Gelzis in Riga, Andrius Sytas in Vilnius, Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Roslan Khasawneh in Singapore, Esha Vaish in Stockholm, Jane Chung in Seoul, Yuka Obayashi in Tokyo, Gus Trompiz in Paris, Gleb Stolyarov in Moscow and Anne Kauranen in Helsinki; editing by Anna Willard)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: A security guard walks past in front of the Bank of Japan headquarters in Tokyo
FILE PHOTO: A security guard walks past in front of the Bank of Japan headquarters in Tokyo, Japan January 23, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato

March 19, 2019

By Leika Kihara

FUKUOKA, Japan (Reuters) – Japan’s ultra-loose monetary policy is making it tough for commercial banks to earn profits out of lending, a problem that cannot be fixed through bank mergers, the influential chairman of a major regional bank in southern Japan said.

Isao Kubota, chairman of Nishi-Nippon City Bank and once a finance ministry colleague of Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda, praised the BOJ chief’s massive stimulus program for correcting a damaging yen spike and revitalizing the economy.

But Kubota said the length of the stimulus program is causing some problems, including hurting financial institutions’ profits for years due to low interest rates.

Extraordinary monetary steps, such as Kuroda’s massive asset-buying program and negative interest rates, could be useful and effective as “short-term, emergency” measures, Kubota told Reuters on Monday.

“But the longer the policy continues, the worse the side effects become,” he said. “We are in the sixth year of this policy and, I think intuitively, the accumulation of the side-effects might be enormous.”

Many Japanese regional banks are grappling with diminishing returns from traditional lending as years of ultra-low rates hurt their bottom line and a dwindling population triggers an exodus of companies to bigger cities.

While Japan’s banking lobbies have complained about the pain from the BOJ’s policies, financial regulators have urged regional banks to cut costs and find new ways to make money.

Some BOJ officials have said mergers could be among options for regional banks to beat a deteriorating business environment.

BIGGER PROBLEMS

But Kubota argued that simply prodding regional banks to merge won’t solve a bigger problem created by the BOJ’s yield curve control (YCC) policy, which caps long-term rates at zero.

“Regardless of whether (the BOJ) intends to do so or not, they are squeezing the profits of commercial banks,” Kubota said of YCC’s impact on bank profits.

“The other side of the coin is that, this kind of phenomenon is never resolved through, for example, mergers of banks. By nature, because of this policy, banks as a whole are made unprofitable.”

Under YCC, the BOJ now pledges to guide short-term rates at minus 0.1 percent and the 10-year bond yield around zero percent. The policy has made it tough for banks to profit from traditional business of borrowing short-term funds and lending them at higher yields.

“We want an early stoppage to this kind of policy. That we can say. But we can’t say what the authorities should do,” Kubota said, when asked whether commercial banks would be better off if the BOJ abandoned negative rates. “They have powers, authorities. They also have responsibilities for the outcome of their policy.”

Despite the mounting challenges to achieving 2 percent inflation, Kuroda won’t abandon his target, said Kubota, who thinks he sees the governor’s way of thinking “very well” as former colleagues.

Both studied under prominent economists at Oxford University as graduate students dispatched from Japan’s Ministry of Finance.

“He’s confident and he’s a good politician,” Kubota said of the BOJ governor. “Even if he thinks something is dubious, he would never say so, so long as there is a need for the policy.”

(Additional reporting by Takahiko Wada; Editing by Richard Borsuk)

Source: OANN

Japanese Olympic Committee President Takeda attends JOC board of directors meeting in Tokyo
Japanese Olympic Committee President Tsunekazu Takeda attends JOC board of directors meeting in Tokyo, Japan, March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

March 19, 2019

TOKYO (Reuters) – The head of Japan’s Olympic Committee, Tsunekazu Takeda, said on Tuesday he will step down from his position when his current term ends in June.

French prosecutors placed Takeda under formal investigation in December for suspected corruption in Japan’s successful bid to host the 2020 Summer Games.

Takeda, who was president of the 2020 bid committee, said during a JOC board of directors meeting in Tokyo that he would step down from his position when his term ends and not seek re-election.

(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka and Jack Tarrant; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Tsunekazu Takeda, President of the Japanese Olympic committee, attends a news conference in Tokyo
FILE PHOTO: Tsunekazu Takeda, President of the Japanese Olympic committee, attends a news conference in Tokyo, Japan January 15, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo

March 19, 2019

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) chief Tsunekazu Takeda, who is expected to announce plans to step down on Tuesday, is also set to resign as a member of the International Olympics Committee, Kyodo News reported.

French prosecutors placed Takeda under formal investigation in December for suspected corruption in Japan’s successful bid to host the 2020 Summer Games.

(Reporting by Chris Gallagher; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: MLB: Spring Training-Chicago Cubs at Los Angeles Dodgers
FILE PHOTO: Feb 25, 2019; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw (22) looks on prior to facing the Chicago Cubs at Camelback Ranch. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

March 19, 2019

For the first time since 2010, Clayton Kershaw won’t be the Opening Day starter for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The left-hander, who has started a club-record eight straight openers, was ruled out of the March 28 start against the Arizona Diamondbacks due to the persistent shoulder inflammation he has dealt with all spring. He has yet to pitch in a spring training game.

“When he’s ready to pitch for us is when he’s going to pitch for us,” said manager Dave Roberts, adding that it was unlikely Kershaw will begin the season on the active roster.

Roberts didn’t announce an Opening Day starter on Monday, but right-hander Walker Buehler is definitely in the mix. The last Opening Day starter for the Dodgers not named Kershaw was Vicente Padilla in 2010.

–Atlanta Braves right-hander Julio Teheran is set to make his sixth consecutive Opening Day start, which would tie him with Hall of Famer Warren Spahn for the longest modern-day streak in franchise history.

Teheran’s Opening Day streak is now the longest current one in the majors after the Dodgers said that Kershaw’s streak will end at eight. Spahn opened six seasons in a row from 1957 to 1962, when the Braves were in Milwaukee.

Teheran, 28, has spent all eight of his major league seasons with the Braves, compiling a 67-62 record with a 3.64 ERA. Teheran went 9-9 last season with a 3.94 ERA, striking out 162 and walking 84 in 175 2/3 innings over 31 starts.

–A poor spring training won’t prevent Ichiro Suzuki from starting the Seattle Mariners’ opener in his native Japan.

Seattle manager Scott Servais said Ichiro will be in the starting lineup Wednesday when the Mariners face the Oakland Athletics in Tokyo.

Suzuki, 45, is just 2-for-31 this spring, but Servais has no qualms about penciling his name in the lineup.

–Texas Rangers starting pitcher Yohander Mendez will miss the first half of the season because of an elbow injury, team officials announced.

The 24-year-old exited his spring training start Sunday in the third inning after losing velocity and feeling tightness in his pitching elbow. An MRI revealed a Grade 1 strain of the ulnar collateral ligament. The left-hander will not need Tommy John surgery.

The plan is to give him six weeks of rest, followed by about another six weeks of a throwing program.

–Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia will not break camp with the team and instead will begin the 2019 season on the injured list.

Pedroia expects to remain in Florida and play extended spring training games to build strength in his surgically repaired left knee. Manager Alex Cora said there is no reason to fear a long-term absence from Pedroia.

Utility options Brock Holt and Eduardo Nunez are likely to platoon at second base with Pedroia out of the mix.

–In the midst of the Philadelphia Phillies’ late-season collapse in 2018, Carlos Santana apparently provided the biggest hit in the team’s clubhouse.

Philadelphia posted an abysmal 8-20 record in September after having the best record in baseball in late July, and the team’s then-first baseman — now with the Cleveland Indians — reportedly took his bat to the clubhouse television upon discovering his younger teammates playing the video game Fortnite during one game against rival Atlanta.

“I see a couple players — I don’t want to say names — they play video games during the game,” the 32-year-old veteran told ESPN, relating how he slugged the TV the players were using. “We come and lose too many games, and I feel like they weren’t worried about it — weren’t respecting their teammates or coaches or the staff or the (front) office. It’s not my personality. But I’m angry because I want to make it good.”

–Field Level Media

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Men look at stock quotation boards outside a brokerage in Tokyo
FILE PHOTO: Men look at stock quotation boards outside a brokerage in Tokyo, Japan, December 5, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

March 19, 2019

By Tomo Uetake

Asian shares treaded water on Tuesday ahead of a U.S. Federal Reserve policy meeting, hovering near six-month highs, while sterling was choppy as the speaker of Britain’s parliament banned another vote on same Brexit deal.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was virtually flat, just a hair away from the highest level since Sept. 21.

Japan’s Nikkei average dropped 0.5 percent, while Australian stocks eased 0.1 percent.

All three major U.S. indexes rose overnight, lifted by banks and tech names, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500, and the Nasdaq Composite adding between 0.3 and 0.4 percent each. [.N]

“Speculators appear to be betting on rise in stock prices on the back of a dovish Fed. The Fed is unlikely to kill such hopes. Yet there is a risk the Fed could tone down its dovishness,” said Masanari Takada, cross-asset strategist at Nomura Securities.

With signs of global economic growth slowing, traders were focused on the Federal Reserve, which is kicking off its two-day policy meeting on later in the day, for clues about the likely path of U.S. borrowing costs.

In particular, investors will be focusing on whether policymakers have sufficiently lowered their interest rate forecasts to more closely align their “dot plot”, a diagram showing individual policymakers’ rate views for the next three years.

Also expected is more detail on a plan to stop cutting the Fed’s holdings of nearly $3.8 trillion in bonds.

“A key focus is when the Fed will omit the word ‘patient’ from its statement, as that would be a pre-requisite for a rate hike,” said Toru Yamamoto, chief fixed income strategist at Daiwa Securities.

In the currency market, the pound found firmer footing on Tuesday after slipping to as low as $1.3183 overnight as lawmakers cast doubt on Prime Minister Theresa May’s third attempt to get parliament to back her Brexit deal. [GBP/]

May’s Brexit plans were thrown into further turmoil on Monday when the speaker of parliament ruled that she could not put her divorce deal to a new vote unless it was re-submitted in fundamentally different form.

May has only two days to win approval for her deal to leave the European Union if she wants to go to a summit with the bloc’s leaders on Thursday with something to offer them in return for more time.

Meanwhile, senior diplomats said the European Union leaders could hold off making any final decision on any Brexit delay when they meet in Brussels later this week, depending on what exactly May asks them for.

The dollar index against a basket of six major currencies barely moved and was at 96.498.

The Japanese yen edged up 0.1 percent to 111.27 yen to the dollar, while the euro was almost flat at $1.1334.

Oil prices rose to near four-month highs on Monday, supported by the prospect of extended OPEC-led oil supply curbs and signs of inventory declines in U.S. crude stockpiles. [O/R]

Early on Tuesday, U.S. crude futures slipped 0.2 percent to $58.99 a barrel.

(Reporting by Tomo Uetake; Additional reporting by Hideyuki Sano; Editing by Kim Coghill)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO - A man runs on a crosswalk at a business district in central Tokyo
FILE PHOTO – A man runs on a crosswalk at a business district in central Tokyo, Japan September 29, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

March 19, 2019

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s government is expected to keep its view of the economy as “recovering at a moderate pace” in its monthly report for March but not risks from overseas, the Nikkei business daily reported on Tuesday.

The government will carefully examine the economic situation over the coming few months, while keeping its view that the economy remains on the recovery path, the report said.

The Nikkei last week reported that the government was considering a slight downgrade to its view of the economy as exports and production fell on slowing demand from China.

In February, the government said the economy was in a moderate recovery but a series of weak data on corporate sentiment, capital expenditure and exports shows the U.S.-China trade war is hurting the outlook for the world’s third-largest economy.

Japan’s exports and factory output have weakened as demand was hit by slowing global growth and the China-U.S. trade war.

The Bank of Japan last week kept its monetary policy unchanged but cut its view on overseas economies to say they are showing signs of slowdown. It also revised down its view on exports and output. [nL3N2115QE ]

(Reporting by Kaori Kaneko; Editing by Sam Holmes)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: The SoftBank Group logo displayed at the SoftBank World 2017 conference in Tokyo
FILE PHOTO: The logo of SoftBank Group Corp is displayed at SoftBank World 2017 conference in Tokyo, Japan, July 20, 2017. REUTERS/Issei Kato

March 18, 2019

(Reuters) – Chip designer Nvidia Corp said on Monday it has partnered with Softbank Group Corp and LG Uplus Corp to deploy cloud gaming servers in Japan and Korea later this year.

Nvidia makes graphics chips for PCs and laptops that help video games look more realistic. Now the company is putting those same chips inside servers in data centers so that gamers who do not have an Nvidia chip in their computer can stream games from the data center.

Nvidia said at a conference in San Jose, California, that it has created a “pod” of its graphics cards that can support up to 10,000 gamers streaming games at once.

The company said Softbank and LG Uplus would use the cards for services to let customers stream games over 5G networks, the next generation of wireless data networks.

(Reporting by Stephen Nellis in San Francisco and Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru; editing by G Crosse)

Source: OANN

Vietnamese who live in Japan celebrate Vietnamese New Year at a Catholic Church in Kawaguchi, near Tokyo
Vietnamese who live in Japan celebrate Vietnamese New Year at a Catholic Church in Kawaguchi, near Tokyo, Japan February 10, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato

March 18, 2019

By Linda Sieg and Ami Miyazaki

TOKYO (Reuters) – When a young Vietnamese woman found out late last year that she was pregnant after arriving in Japan on a “technical trainee” visa, she was given a stark choice: “Have an abortion or go back to Vietnam.”

But returning home would leave her unable to pay back the $10,000 she borrowed to pay recruiters there.

“She needs to stay to pay back her debts,” said Shiro Sasaki, secretary general of the Zentoitsu (All United) Workers Union, who has advocated on her behalf and said such threats were common.

Buoyed by hopes of higher wages but burdened by loans, Vietnamese youth – the fastest-growing group of foreign workers in Japan – will be among those most affected by a new scheme to let in more blue-collar workers that kicks off in April.

“Trainees from China have been declining as wages there rise with economic growth, while in Vietnam, unemployment is high for youth with high education levels, so many young people want to go abroad to work,” said Futaba Ishizuka, a research fellow at the Institute of Developing Economies, a think tank.

The technical trainee program is widely known as a back door for blue-collar labor in immigration-shy Japan. Reported abuses in Japan include low and unpaid wages, excessive hours, violence and sexual harassment. In Vietnam, unscrupulous recruiters and brokers often charge trainees exorbitant fees.

Such problems will persist and could worsen under the new system, aimed at easing a historic labor shortage, according to interviews with activists, academics, unionists and trainees.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose conservative base fears a rise in crime and a threat to the country’s social fabric, has insisted that the new law, enacted in December, does not constitute an “immigration policy.”

That worries critics.

“In fact, Japan is already a country of immigrants. But because they say it is not an ‘immigration policy’ and the premise is that people will not stay, they only take temporary steps,” said Japan Civil Liberties Union director Akira Hatate. “The needs of society are not met, and the needs of the workers are not met.”

GROWING NUMBERS

The trainees system began in 1993 with the aim of transferring skills to workers from developing countries. But persistent abuses developed early on, experts say.

Those issues were spotlighted last year during debate over the new law.

Among the high-profile cases was that of four companies’ using trainees for decontamination work in areas affected by radiation after the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. Two firms, also accused of not paying appropriate wages, were banned from employing trainees for five years; the others got warnings from the justice ministry.

A labor ministry survey published in June showed more than 70 percent of trainee employers had violated labor rules, with excessive hours and safety problems most common. That compared to 66 percent for employers overall.

The Organization for Technical Intern Training (OTIT), a watchdog group, was set up in 2017. This month, it issued a reminder to employers that trainees are covered by Japanese labor law. It specifically banned unfair treatment of pregnant workers.

Harsh conditions led more than 7,000 trainees to quit in 2017, experts say, many lured by shady brokers promising fake documentation and higher-paying jobs. Almost half were from Vietnam.

Because trainees are not permitted to switch employers, leaving their jobs usually means losing legal visa status. A few go to shelters run by non-profit groups or get help from unionists; many disappear into a labor black market.

“The situation is completely different from what they were told back home,” said Shigeru Yamashita, managing director of the Vietnam Mutual Aid Association in Japan. “They have debts they cannot repay with their salaries at home, so the only option is to flee into the black market for labor.”

ADDRESSING SHORTAGES

The new law will allow about 345,000 blue-collar workers to enter Japan over five years in 14 sectors such as construction and nursing care, which face acute labor shortages. One category of “specified skilled workers” can stay up to five years but cannot bring families.

A second category of visas – currently limited to the construction and shipbuilding industries – allows workers to bring families and be eligible to stay longer.

Nguyen Thi Thuy Phuong, 29, left her husband and elementary-school-age child home in Vietnam to work as a trainee in a knitwear factory in Mitsuke City in northern Japan.

The textile industry was not included in the new visa program after coming under fire for the high number of labor violations in its trainee programs.

Now she wishes she could bring her family and stay longer than three years.

“Life in Japan is convenient, and the air is clean,” she told Reuters in careful Japanese during a break from work.

For-profit employment agencies and individuals can register as liaisons between recruiters and employers. These “registered support organizations” will not need licenses.

Immigration authorities will provide oversight of the new foreign workers; the labor ministry’s immigration bureau will become an agency on April 1, a bureaucratic distinction that gives it more clout.

On Friday, the justice ministry issued fresh rules for the new system, including a requirement that foreign workers be paid at least as much as Japanese employees.

But Sasaki said the agency’s focus would be residence status, not labor conditions.

Some companies have woken up to the risk of losing investors if they or their suppliers violate workers’ rights, said Japan Civil Liberties Union’s Hatate.

But the rush to implement the new law has left local authorities worried that too little has been done to support and integrate more foreigners.

“If there is not a proper framework to accept them and they are thought of as purely a way to fill the labor shortage, for certain there will be major problems,” Yuji Kuroiwa, governor of Kanagawa Prefecture near Tokyo, told Reuters.

Takashi Takayama, whose Vietnamese name is Cao Son Quy, fled Vietnam as a refugee in 1979. He recalled how foreigners were laid off in droves after the 2008 global financial crisis and fears a similar scenario when demand for labor eases after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“When the Olympics are over, I think a tragic event will occur,” Takayama said at a Vietnamese New Year celebration at a Catholic church outside Tokyo. “I don’t want to see that.”

(Editing by Gerry Doyle)

Source: OANN

Khalid al-Hussan attends a signing ceremony at Tokyo Stock Exchange
FILE PHOTO: Chief Executive Officer of the Saudi Stock Exchange (Tadawul) Khalid al-Hussan attends a signing ceremony with Japan Exchange Group (JPX) Chief Executive Officer Akira Kiyota (not in picture) at Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE), Japan March 14, 2017. REUTERS/Issei Kato

March 18, 2019

By Marwa Rashad

RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s listed companies could see holdings by foreign investors rise to 10 percent when their shares are included in index providers MSCI and FTSE’s emerging-market indices, the chief executive of Tadawul told Reuters on Monday.

Tadawul is the Middle East’s largest exchange and Saudi Arabia’s main exchange. It has a total market capitalization of around $541.3 billion, with a free float of about 40 percent.

Saudi shares on Monday joined the FTSE Emerging All Cap Index with a weighting of 2.9 percent. In May, Saudi shares will join the MSCI Emerging Markets Index.

Khalid al-Hussan said he expected equities on Tadawul to attract $5 billion of passive fund inflows after the FTSE Russell inclusion. Foreign investors currently hold 5.9 percent of Saudi shares.

Active foreign investors in the market have been increasing since the beginning of the year, and the number of qualified foreign investors registering to trade on the Saudi exchange is increasing everyday.

Hussan said he estimates the Saudi exchange to see “around $5 billion of passive inflows coming from FTSE and around $10-11 from MSCI and some inflows from S&P.”

Foreigners have been net buyers of Saudi stocks since the start of the year, plowing more than $2.1 billion year-to-date into the Saudi market. The Saudi index is up nearly 9.6 percent, outperforming its Gulf peers.

“You have to applaud the Saudis for what they’ve done over the past year in relation to opening up the market, said Fadi Al Said, managing director and head of the MENA investment team at Lazard Asset in Dubai.

“I think the opening up the market, the QFI process, has gone through an evolution of simplifying the process,” Al Said said.

Index provider MSCI incorporated shares of United Arab Emirates and Qatar companies into its emerging market index in 2014.

Foreigners excluding strategic investors own less than 2 percent of Saudi stocks, analysts have said. Currently, foreign ownership of listed stocks is capped at 49 percent.

Hussan said it was too early to discuss raising the cap, given current ownership levels and size of the market.

“We would love that challenge to happen in the market and it will show that our market is very attractive, but until then I don’t see that the 49 percent is an obstacle to international investments, taking into the account the size of the Saudi market.”

The Saudi main equities index closed up 1 percent on Monday.

Tadawul is expected to introduce index futures this year, pending the feedback it receives from investors to the rules and regulations of trading derivatives, which will be offered for public consultation over next two weeks, he said.

(Reporting By Marwa Rashad; additional reporting by Nafisa Eltahir, editing by Hadeel Al Sayegh, Larry King)

Source: OANN

DJ Masatane Muto, diagnosed with the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), mixes music using a smart eyewear called 'Jins Meme' which detects eye and head movements, during his performance on the stage in Tokyo
DJ Masatane Muto, diagnosed with the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), mixes music using a smart eyewear called ‘Jins Meme’ which detects eye and head movements, during his performance on the stage in Tokyo, Japan, January 24, 2019. Picture taken January 24, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato

March 18, 2019

By Kwiyeon Ha

TOKYO (Reuters) – The music booms and lights flash as Masatane Muto, a wheelchair-bound disc jockey, uses is eyes to put on a show at a recent Tokyo music festival.

Muto, who lost the use of his hands to Lou Gehrig’s Disease, wears a pair of high-tech glasses connected to an app that controls music-mixing software.

“Through my performance, I hope to show that everybody should be given the chance to express themselves,” Muto, 32, told Reuters Television after performing at the J-Wave Innovation World Festa.

Muto was a 27-year-old advertising executive when he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease – a progressive neurological disease in which patients gradually lose control of most of their muscles, though mental function remains unimpaired.

The disease, which gained prominence in 2014 through the “Ice Bucket Challenge” global video fundraising campaign, is terminal, with most patients dying within three to five years of their diagnosis. There is currently no treatment.

On the train home after his diagnosis, Muto vowed to make the rest of his life as innovative and creative as possible.

He quit his job and founded the group “WITH ALS” to raise awareness of the disease and help other patients live their lives to the fullest.

Muto dreamed of being a disc jockey and tracked down the latest technology to make it happen.

Now a radio personality, he performs as a disc and video jockey under the moniker “EYE VDJ”, mixing music with smart eyewear that detects his eye movements and allows him to use an app connected to music-mixing software.

A three-point sensor on the nose pad of the JINS MEME glasses detects subtle electronic changes in the surrounding skin which are caused by blinking or movement of the eyes.

The eyeglasses sell for 27,300 yen ($245) a pair, cheaper than many other eye-tracking devices. The source code for JINS MEME has been released to the public in the hope that others will find their own ways of using it, Muto said.

“ALS is thought to be an incurable disease, but I believe hope is now growing for ALS patients to pursue their lifestyle and quality of life with the help of technology,” he said.

Muto said his next dream is to perform at the opening ceremonies of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020.

“By then I may be bedridden, but I can perform with the help of technology and the support of many people,” he said.

(Writing by Elaine Lies; Editing by Darren Schuettler)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Logos of Walmart and Seiyu are pictured at the headquarters office in Tokyo
FILE PHOTO: The logos of Walmart and Seiyu are pictured at the headquarters office in Tokyo, Japan July 12, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

March 18, 2019

TOKYO (Reuters) – The newly appointed chief executive of Walmart Japan and Japanese supermarket chain Seiyu said on Monday he had no plan to sell the Japanese supermarket, following reports last year that Walmart was looking for a buyer.

“Absolutely not at all,” Lionel Desclee said when asked whether such a sale was likely. “I’m not here to sell a business.”

Japanese media reported last year that Walmart considered selling Seiyu, and that a sale could amount to around 300 billion to 500 billion yen ($2.69 billion to $4.48 billion).

(Reporting by Ritsuko Ando)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Naotoshi Yamada poses for a photo at his office in Tokyo
FILE PHOTO: Naotoshi Yamada poses for a photo at his office in Tokyo, Japan, October 3, 2018. Picture taken October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

March 18, 2019

TOKYO (Reuters) – Superfan Naotoshi Yamada, famous in Japan for having been to every Summer Games since 1964, has died aged 92 with an unfulfilled dream of watching the Olympics when it returns to Tokyo next year.

Japanese broadcaster NHK reported on Monday that he died last week following heart failure.

Yamada, known to his Japanese compatriots as “Olympic Ojisan”, or “Olympics Grandad”, first experienced the Games when Tokyo last hosted the gathering in 1964.

He had been a colorful presence at every Summer Games since, in his distinctive gold top hat and red jacket to pair with his beaming smile.

In an interview with Reuters in October, Yamada had expressed his desire to live long enough to see the Tokyo 2020 Games [nL5N20S0MG].

“It will be the culmination of all my years cheering the Olympics,” Yamada had said.

Yamada’s haul of flags, stamps, photographs and other items collected on his Olympic travels are on display at a gallery in his hometown of Nanto City, Toyama Prefecture.

(Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO - Birds fly in front of Mt. Fuji and a crane at a port in Tokyo
FILE PHOTO – Birds fly in front of Mt. Fuji and a crane at a port in Tokyo, Japan January 25, 2016. REUTERS/Toru Hanai/File Photo

March 18, 2019

By Tetsushi Kajimoto

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s exports fell for a third straight month in February in a sign of growing strain on the trade-reliant economy from slowing external demand and a Sino-U.S. tariff war.

Ministry of Finance data showed on Monday exports fell 1.2 percent year-on-year in February, more than a 0.9 percent decrease expected by economists in a Reuters poll.

It followed a sharp 8.4 percent year-on-year drop in January, marking a third straight month of falls due to declines in shipments of semiconductor production equipment and cars.

The trade data comes on top of a recent batch of weak indicators, such as factory output and a key gauge of capital spending, which have raised worries that a record run of postwar growth may come to an end. Some analysts say a recession cannot be ruled out.

The Bank of Japan last week cut its view on exports and output, while keeping policy unchanged. Yet, extended weakness in exports could put it under pressure to deliver more easing, especially as inflation remains well off its 2 percent target and pressure on businesses and consumers continues to rise.

Slowing global growth, the Sino-U.S. trade war and complications over Britain’s exit from the European Union have forced policy makers around the world to shift to an easing stance over recent months.

The trade war between the United States and China – Japan’s largest export markets – has already curbed global trade.

Monday’s trade data showed exports to China, Japan’s biggest trading partner, rose 5.5 percent year-on-year, rebounding from a 17.4 percent drop in January. However, overall trade to the Asian giant remained weak, as even after averaging effects of the Lunar New Year holiday, China-bound shipments declined 6.3 percent in the January-February period from a year earlier.

Japan’s shipments to Asia, which account for more than half of overall exports, fell 1.8 percent, down for a fourth straight month.

U.S.-bound exports rose 2.0 percent, but imports from the United States grew 4.9 percent, resulting in Japan’s trade surplus with the country declining 0.9 percent year-on-year to 624.9 billion yen in February.

Japan’s still-large surplus with the United States raises concerns among Japanese policymakers and auto exporters that Washington may impose hefty duties on its imports, analysts say.

Imports of Japanese cars make up about two-thirds of Japan’s $69 billion annual trade surplus with the United States, making Tokyo and Beijing targets of criticism by Trump.

(Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Chris Gallagher)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO : A man looks at an electronic stock quotation board showing Japan's Nikkei average outside a brokerage in Tokyo
FILE PHOTO : A man looks at an electronic stock quotation board showing Japan’s Nikkei average outside a brokerage in Tokyo, Japan, November 13, 2018. REUTERS/Toru Hanai/File Photo

March 18, 2019

By Wayne Cole

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Asian share markets crept ahead on Monday while bonds were in demand globally on speculation the U.S. Federal Reserve will sound decidedly dovish at its policy meeting this week.

Japan’s Nikkei led the way with a rise of 0.7 percent, and MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan edged up 0.1 percent.

E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 were just a fraction lower. The S&P 500 boasted its best weekly gain since the end of November last week, while the Nasdaq had its best week so far this year.

There is much talk Fed policymakers will lower their interest rate forecasts, or “dot plots”, to show little or no further tightening this year.

Also expected is more detail on a plan to stop culling the Fed’s holdings of nearly $3.8 trillion in bonds. The two-day meeting ends with a news conference on Wednesday.

As a result, yields on three and five-year Treasuries are dead in line with the effective Fed funds rate, while futures imply a better-than-even chance of a rate cut by year end.

“Long-term bond yields remain noticeably lower across a wide range of countries,” said Alan Oster, group chief economist at National Australia Bank.

“Markets are pricing in little or no chance of a rate hike by the major central banks this year, outside of the Bank of England. The Fed is indicating that it will be patient and we don’t expect any rate hikes this year.”

Data on Friday showed U.S. manufacturing output fell for a second straight month in February and factory activity in New York state hit nearly a two-year low this month, offering further evidence of a sharp slowdown in economic growth early in the first quarter.

A marked decline in Treasury yields has dragged on the dollar, leaving it at 111.55 yen from a top of 111.89 on Friday. Against a basket of currencies, the dollar was pinned at 96.583 having shed 0.7 percent last week.

The euro was holding at $1.1321, well up from the recent trough of $1.1174 which was hit when the European Central Bank took a dovish turn of its own.

Sterling was steady at $1.3292 as markets await some clarity on where the Brexit drama was heading.

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government is scrambling to get support in parliament for her Brexit deal.

May has only three days to win approval for her deal to leave the European Union if she wants to go to a summit with the bloc’s leaders on Thursday with something to offer them in return for more time.

In commodity markets, spot gold was supported by the widespread decline in bond yields and stood at $1,300.35 per ounce.

Oil prices were near their highest for the year so far. U.S. crude was last off 6 cents at $58.46 a barrel, while Brent crude futures added 2 cents to $67.18.

(Editing by Kim Coghill)

Source: OANN

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Philadelphia Phillies
Mar 17, 2019; Clearwater, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies designated hitter Bryce Harper (3) reacts after striking out in the first inning of the spring training game against the New York Yankees at Spectrum Field. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

March 17, 2019

Bryce Harper returned to action Sunday after missing a game with a bruised right ankle and went 0-for-3 with a walk as the Philadelphia Phillies were defeated 7-3 by the visiting New York Yankees at Clearwater, Fla.

Harper was out Saturday after getting hit by a pitch on his ankle on Friday. He still has yet to record a hit this spring in a Phillies uniform.

Greg Bird, Gleyber Torres and Troy Tulowitzki each hit home runs for the Yankees, while New York starter James Paxton gave up one run but did not allow a hit over 4 1/3 innings.

Athletics 5, Fighters 1

Khris Davis and Jurickson Profar each drove in two runs as Oakland won the tune up before Wednesday’s Far East season opener against the Seattle Mariners at Tokyo. Daiki Asama drove in the only run for the Nippon-Ham Fighters.

Astros 7, Braves (ss) 3

Houston left-hander Framber Valdez gave up two hits over four scoreless innings, while Alex De Goti and Nick Tanielu each drove in two runs at Kissimmee, Fla. Freddie Freeman hit a home run for host Atlanta.

Red Sox 3 (ss), Rays 2

Danny Mars and Ryan Fitzgerald each drove in a run in the eighth inning as host Boston rallied for the victory at Fort Myers, Fla. Taylor Walls had the only extra-base hit for Tampa Bay, a double.

Yankees (ss) 5, Orioles 3

Miguel Andujar, Luke Voit and Zack Zehner each hit home runs as New York won at Sarasota, Fla. Carlos Perez hit a home run for host Baltimore.

Tigers 3, Braves (ss) 2

Detroit right-hander Tyson Ross worked five innings while giving up two runs, but neither of them were earned at Lakeland, Fla. Rafael Ortega and Sean Kazmar Jr. each drove in a run for visiting Atlanta, which did not have an extra-base hit.

Blue Jays 9, Twins 8

Rowdy Tellez hit the tiebreaking homer in the bottom of the eighth inning and Randal Grichuk also went deep as Toronto outlasted Minnesota at Dunedin, Fla. Ehire Adrianza and Tyler Austin homered for the Twins.

Marlins 4, Cardinals 2

Right-hander Trevor Richards fired six hitless innings and Pedro Alvarez hit a home run as Miami won at Jupiter, Fla. Andrew Kinzer drove in a run for St. Louis, which had just two hits on the day.

Pirates 8, Red Sox (ss) 1

Corey Dickerson and Starling Marte each hit home runs for Pittsburgh and right-hander Jameson Taillon did not allow an earned run over five innings at Bradenton, Fla. Sandy Leon had two hits for visiting Boston.

Nationals 10, Mets 5

Juan Soto and Tyler Goeddel each hit home runs and Stephen Strasburg struck out six over fine innings as Washington won at West Palm Beach, Fla. Pete Alonso and Michael Conforto each hit home runs for visitingNew York.

–Field Level Media

Source: OANN

Retired NBA player Kobe Bryant draws teams for FIBA World Cup in Shenzhen
Basketball – FIBA World Cup Draw – Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China – Retired NBA player Kobe Bryant draws teams. March 16. 2019 REUTERS/Stringer

March 16, 2019

The United States will open its defense of its FIBA World Cup championship this summer against the Czech Republic.

The draw for the 32-team tournament was held Saturday in Shenzhen, China.

The United States – the tournament’s top seed – also will face Turkey and Japan in Group E.

The FIBA World Cup will be held Aug. 31 to Sept. 15, with play in eight cities across China. The United States is the two-time defending champion.

The American squad will be coached by Gregg Popovich. He is taking over for Mike Krzyzewski, who led Team USA to three Olympic gold medals. The team has not been selected, but 15 NBA All-Stars are in the player pool.

The second-ranked team, Spain, headlines Group C, and will play Puerto Rico, Iran and Tunisia in pool play. Spain won the World Cup in 2006.

France, the third-ranked team, was placed in Group G with the Dominican Republic, Germany and Jordan.

The United States will play all of its group games in Shanghai. The championship game will be played in Beijing.

Seven nations will qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics based on their World Cup finish. Host Japan has an automatic berth, and the four other teams that will compete in the Olympics will earn their way to Tokyo through qualifying tournaments.

–Field Level Media

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: 2018 European Championships - Glasgow
2018 European Championships – Track Cycling, Women’s Omnium, Elimination Race – Emirates Arena, Glasgow, Britain – August 6, 2018 – Katie Archibald of Great Britain reacts after winning the race. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

March 15, 2019

By Martyn Herman

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s Olympic, world and European track cycling champion Katie Archibald says the suicide this month of American rival Kelly Catlin has hit her hard.

The 23-year-old Catlin, also a world champion, was part of the American team pursuit quartet beaten to Olympic gold in Rio in 2016 by a British squad featuring Scotland’s Archibald.

Catlin, likely to have been part of the U.S team to challenge Britain’s crown in Tokyo next year, was found dead this month in her apartment at Stanford University.

“I’ve been thinking about it a lot,” Archibald, who celebrated her 25th birthday this week, told Reuters in an interview on Friday. “It hurts me to think about the pain that she must have been hiding.

“That’s what has kept in my mind these past few days. It’s left a heavy feeling in your chest, in your stomach. It’s really horrible to imagine what Kelly was carrying around.”

Archibald said the shock was greater because she had always seen Catlin as someone who “walked with her head high”.

“She was an exceptional athlete, an exceptional talent,” she said. “Watching her in track center she always did stand out.”

Speaking to the Guardian newspaper this week Catlin’s father Mark questioned whether a concussion his daughter suffered two months before her death had contributed in any way to her mood.

“She had I think problems with reasoning, kind of befuddled,” he said. “She had changed and it was tough to see and it was a concern to us.”

Archibald suffered concussion after a crash in the omnium at the recent world championships in Poland.

STRICTER PROTOCOLS

She said protocols around head injuries to riders had improved in British Cycling.

“The contrast between having a crash five years ago and having a crash now with the check-ups and the procedures you go through, they are really a lot stricter,” she said.

“But it does scare you to think that a crash could not just take you out of your sport, but also take you out of yourself.”

While the reasons behind Catlin’s suicide are not known, the death of an elite Olympic athlete in the prime of her career has again shone the light on the pressure placed on the shoulders of young sportsmen and women.

A UK Sport review into the governance of British Cycling’s elite program, published in 2017, highlighted concerns such as fear, intimidation and bullying.

British Cycling implemented an Action Plan to address 39 areas of concern, including “athlete whole-life development and welfare”.

Archibald, who only took up cycling seriously aged 17, says while there is work to be done UK Sport and British Cycling are “pretty engaged” on athlete welfare.

“There is more sympathy for being human and having struggles,” she said. “There’s more focus now to who you are outside of sport, an identity that isn’t attached solely to performance. That’s an important part of mental health.

“Maybe less stigma too about acting as an individual. I never agreed with the idea that there is only one personality type that can be an Olympic champion. You don’t have to be devoid of emotion.”

After a tough time at the worlds which left her “waking up unhappy”, Archibald is looking forward to letting her hair down at this month’s Six Day event at the Manchester velodrome.

Starting on March 22 it boasts an international-quality field competing across a range of track disciplines with the lights turned down and the music turned up.

“Go out, race hard, and not stress if it doesn’t work out. It’s like no other event,” Archibald, who will be joined by Britain’s golden couple Jason and Laura Kenny, said.

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: A liquified natural gas (LNG) tanker leaves the dock after discharge at PetroChina's receiving terminal in Dalian
FILE PHOTO: A liquified natural gas (LNG) tanker leaves the dock after discharge at PetroChina’s receiving terminal in Dalian, Liaoning province, China July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Chen Aizhu/File Photo

March 15, 2019

By Florence Tan

HOUSTON (Reuters) – Liquefied natural gas (LNG) producers must avoid becoming over-reliant on the strong Chinese demand growth seen in the past two years and should intensify efforts to broaden their markets and create new uses for the fuel, senior company executives said at an energy conference this week.

The warnings were underscored by this year’s drop in Asian spot prices for the super-cooled gas. LNG prices this week fell to their lowest for this time of the year since 2016, weighed down by rich supplies.

China became the world’s second largest LNG importer after Japan in 2018 after imports nearly doubled from the previous year. The country’s robust appetite served to underpin spot prices even as a wave of new supplies from Australia, Russia and the United States swept into the market.

“We are becoming too reliant on China in the last couple of years,” Woodside Petroleum’s Chief Executive Officer Peter Coleman warned at the CERAWeek energy conference in Houston earlier this week.

“It worries me because we’ve seen others drop off in the same period for demand.”

LNG consultancy Poten & Partners has forecast 33 million tonnes of new supply in 2019, but only 16 million tonnes of extra demand. Demand growth in China could slow to 8 million tonnes in 2019 against the 15.7 million tonnes in 2018, according to Wood Mackenzie.

“I would caution the LNG industry not to make linear extrapolations of Chinese LNG demand based on what you’ve seen in the last two years,” Hendrik Gordenker, chairman of Japan’s JERA Co, a fuel trading joint venture between Tokyo Electric Power and Chubu Electric Power, told the conference.

China has choices in terms of potential energy supplies, including gas from Russia and central Asia, and domestic shale gas, said Gordenker who heads the world’s largest LNG buyer. The nation also is developing renewable energy sources and could continue to tap coal, he said.

To ease reliance on China, LNG producers must broaden their markets, develop new uses for the gas and continue to push for a carbon tax globally to nudge out coal, executives said.

“We need to continue to develop a broader market base, or else we run the risk that other commodities have had of just becoming so focused on Chinese growth that it can become extremely additive,” Woodside’s Coleman said.

“We need to go a lot harder after coal, probably best way to do that is to get a common carbon price around the world,” he said, adding that using LNG for shipping is also a way to increase the fuel’s demand.

(GRAPHIC: LNG demand growth – https://tmsnrt.rs/2U82jSn)

(Reporting by Florence Tan; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

Source: OANN

Former Nissan Motor Chairman Carlos Ghosn arrives at his place of residence in Tokyo
FILE PHOTO: Former Nissan Motor Chairman Carlos Ghosn arrives at his place of residence in Tokyo, Japan, March 8, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato

March 15, 2019

PARIS (Reuters) – French carmaker Renault said on Friday that it had decided to push back a decision regarding the 2018 pay package for ousted boss Carlos Ghosn.

“The board of directors will meet again in April to make its conclusions,” said Renault.

Earlier this week, Japan’s Nissan and Renault said they would retool the world’s top car-making alliance to put themselves on a more equal footing, breaking up the all-powerful chairmanship previously wielded by Ghosn.

Ghosn is facing trial in Japan for failing to disclose some $82 million in income he had arranged to be paid later, as well as transferring personal investment losses to Nissan when he was chief executive. He denies any wrongdoing.

Ghosn is credited for rescuing Nissan from near-bankruptcy in 1999.

Renault bought 43 percent of Nissan ahead of the 1999 rescue. Nissan holds a 15 percent, non-voting stake in Renault, while Renault’s top shareholder is the French government.

(Reporting by Gilles Guillaume; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta)

Source: OANN

Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Paralympics
FILE PHOTO: Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Paralympics – Closing Ceremony – Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium – Pyeongchang, South Korea – March 18, 2018 – President of the International Paralympic Committee Andrew Parsons speaks during the closing ceremony. REUTERS/Carl Recine

March 15, 2019

LONDON (Reuters) – The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) has set down a long list of conditions Russia must meet for the next four years to avoid having a doping-related suspension reinstated.

Russia’s Paralympic Committee (RPC) was officially welcomed back into the fold on Friday after a 30-month suspension imposed over allegations of state-sponsored doping was lifted.

But it was left in no doubt that the lifting of the suspension would be revoked should the RPC be found in breach of anti-doping rules until December, 2022.

“We are looking forward to welcoming the RPC back as an IPC member,” IPC President Andrew Parsons said in a statement.

“The organization should be under no illusions, however, that should it at any stage not meet the post-reinstatement criteria, the IPC Governing Board can reconsider its membership status. This could include the IPC revoking the conditional reinstatement.”

Conditions the RPC must satisfy include remaining compliant with all the requirements of the World Anti-Doping Program (including, in particular, the World Anti-Doping Code) and the IPC Anti-Doping Code.

Russia’s Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) must also avoid being declared “non-compliant” while Russian para athletes will only be allowed to compete in selected events if they have met minimum testing requirements for the prior six months.

In reinstating the RPC, the IPC said it had met 69 of the 70 criteria outlined in 2016 after it was suspended.

“It is now a much-improved organization from the time when it was suspended,” Parsons said.

The RPC has been barred from international competitions since August, 2016, following a two-part WADA-commissioned report by Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren in 2016 found evidence of a state-sponsored doping schemes across several sports and at the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi.

It meant Russian athletes were absent from the Rio Olympics in 2016 and last year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

The lifting of the ban clears the way for the Russian paralympic team to compete at next year’s Tokyo Games.

(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO - Birds fly in front of Mt. Fuji and a crane at a port in Tokyo
FILE PHOTO – Birds fly in front of Mt. Fuji and a crane at a port in Tokyo, Japan January 25, 2016. REUTERS/Toru Hanai/File Photo

March 15, 2019

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s exports in February likely fell at a much slower pace than the previous month, but weak global demand and U.S.-China trade frictions continue to cloud the outlook, a Reuters poll showed on Friday.

Exports are expected to have slipped 0.9 percent in February from a year earlier, the poll of 17 economists found, after slumping 8.4 percent in January, the biggest decline in more than two years.

Imports, however, likely declined at a sharper pace of 5.8 percent in February after falling 0.6 percent in January, according to the poll.

“We expect exports in February made up for some of their losses (in January) caused by the Lunar New Year holiday,” said Takumi Tsunoda, senior economist at Shinkin Central Bank Research Institute. The holiday, which causes significant business disruptions across much of Asia, began in early February this year and in mid-February in 2018.

“But the nation’s exports to Asia, especially shipments of IT-related items, are expected to have stayed weak.”

The trade balance likely swung back to a surplus of 310.2 billion yen ($2.78 billion) from a deficit of 1.41 trillion yen in January, the poll showed.

Global trade has slowed amid weaker Chinese and European economic growth and as Washington and Beijing remain locked in a tit-for-tat tariff battle, which is taking an increasing toll on Japan’s export-reliant economy.

The Finance Ministry will release trade data at 8:50 a.m. Japan time on Monday, March 18 (2350 GMT, March 17).

On inflation, Japan’s core consumer price index, which includes oil products but excludes volatile fresh food costs, is forecast to have risen 0.8 percent in February, the same pace as in January.

“Energy bills likely supported core CPI, while prices of gasoline and telecommunications weighed on,” said Shinichiro Kobayashi, senior economist at Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting.

“Core CPI will likely stay lackluster for a while as falls in oil prices will start to appear and mobile carriers are expected to cut phone charges.”

The Internal Affairs Ministry will publish data on consumer prices at 8:30 a.m. Tokyo time on March 22 (2330 GMT on March 21)

The Bank of Japan kept monetary policy settings steady on Friday but tempered its optimism that robust exports and factory output will underpin growth, in a nod to heightened overseas risks that threaten to derail a fragile economic recovery.

(Reporting by Kaori Kaneko; Editing by Kim Coghill)

Source: OANN

Toyota's Human Support Robot delivers a basket to a woman in a wheelchair at a demonstration of Tokyo 2020 Robot Project for Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo
Toyota’s Human Support Robot (HSR) delivers a basket to a woman in a wheelchair at a demonstration of Tokyo 2020 Robot Project for Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, March 15, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-hoon

March 15, 2019

By Jack Tarrant

TOKYO (Reuters) – Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics organizers launched their ambitious Robot Project on Friday, unveiling two of the robots designed to assist supporters, workers and athletes at the Games.

The two products, Toyota’s Human Support Robot (HSR) and the Power Assist Suit from Panasonic, were demonstrated to the public for the first time in Tokyo.

The HSR, a small white robot with built-in facial features, will assist wheelchair users at the Olympics, which begin in July 2020.

The robots can carry food and other goods, guide viewers to their seats and provide event information.

“We will support people at the Olympics and at the stadium in wheelchair accessible areas,” said Minoru Yamauchi, who is in charge of Toyota’s 2020 robots program.

“In terms of service, we will be offering stress-free entry and viewing and the robot can also carry bags and other luggage items for the customers.”

There will be 16 HSR robots at Tokyo 2020 venues and Toyota hope to have similar products available for general sale by the early 2030s.

Panasonic also presented their offering, a battery-powered exoskeleton that assists with picking up heavy objects.

People are strapped into the Power Assist Suits, which enable users to repetitively lift and carry objects without putting a strain on their back.

They will be used by workers at Olympic and Paralympic venues, as well as the athletes’ village.

Tokyo 2020 organizers have long maintained next year’s summer showpiece will be the most innovative ever and more robots are expected to be announced later.

“At Pyeongchang there are examples of robots being used at the Games but I don’t think it was to this sort of practical level,” said Tokyo 2020 Vice Director General Maasaki Komiya.

“So, let me reiterate, we want to give the impression that robots are actually usable and they can become part of our daily lives.”

“At past Games I do not believe that we really saw robots as part of the Games.”

The Olympics begin on July 24, 2020 with the Paralympics commencing a month later.

(Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: People walk inside a building in Tokyo
FILE PHOTO: People walk inside a building in Tokyo, Japan January 23, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo

March 15, 2019

By Takahiko Wada

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s financial watchdog will conduct stress tests on regional banks around mid-year and review rules to prod them to speed up efforts to boost profitability, a government official with direct knowledge of the matter said on Friday.

The move comes in the wake of growing concern among policymakers over the plight of regional banks, which have seen profits hit by years of ultra-low interest rates and an exodus of borrowers moving to bigger cities as the population shrinks.

Under current regulation aimed at pre-empting bank failures, the Financial Services Agency (FSA) focuses on whether commercial banks meet minimum capital adequacy ratios and past data in determining whether they are deemed financially viable.

Japan’s Nikkei newspaper reported on Friday that the FSA will review such guidelines to focus more on the future business outlook of the banks and whether their profitability is resilient to chronic pressure such as low rates and an aging population.

The new guidelines would allow the FSA to slap business improvement orders against regional banks that are not making enough efforts to boost profitability, the official said, confirming the Nikkei’s report.

The financial regulator will conduct stress checks on the nation’s 105 regional banks, to identify ones that could fail to meet the minimum capital adequacy ration of 4 percent if a big shock – such as a spike in interest rates or credit costs – hits, the official said.

The FSA plans to come up with the new guidelines by June, the official said on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

Many Japanese regional banks are grappling with diminishing returns from their traditional lending business, hit by a low interest rate environment amid the Bank of Japan’s ultra-loose monetary policy.

“The (BOJ’s) policy has provided sufficient benefits to the economy. On the other hand, various side-effects are emerging in areas like financial intermediation and bond market functions,” Takashige Shibato, head of Japan’s regional bank lobby, said on Wednesday. “We hope the BOJ takes these into account,” he added.

BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda has said the central bank will be more mindful of the rising demerits of prolonged easing. But he has also stressed the central bank’s priority is to achieve its 2 percent inflation target, signaling that monetary policy will remain ultra-loose for some time.

(Writing by Leika Kihara; Editing by Sam Holmes)

Source: OANN

Tsunekazu Takeda, President of the Japanese Olympic committee, bows as he attends a news conference in Tokyo, Japan
Tsunekazu Takeda, President of the Japanese Olympic committee, bows as he attends a news conference in Tokyo, Japan January 15, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato

March 15, 2019

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Olympic Committee President Tsunekazu Takeda is likely to retire without serving another term as French prosecutors are investigating him for suspected corruption in Japan’s successful bid to host the 2020 Games, public broadcaster NHK reported.

The JOC is scheduled to elect its president in June in regular biennial voting, but senior officials on the committee and others close to the matter said his chances of another term amid the investigation were slim, NHK said.

Other sources said Takeda — head of the committee since 2001 — should decide by himself whether to step down, the broadcaster reported.

The JOC said “nothing has been decided” without adding further comment. The Tokyo 2020 organizing committee declined to comment.

French prosecutors have been probing multi-million dollar payments made by the Tokyo bid committee to a Singapore consulting company.

The prosecuting judge now suspects Takeda of paying bribes to secure the winning bid, a judicial source told Reuters. Takeda was questioned in Paris in December and placed under formal investigation.

Takeda, who was president of the 2020 bid committee, has denied any wrongdoing, saying that there was nothing improper with the contracts made between the committee and the consultancy and that they were for legitimate work.

The International Olympic Committee’s ethics commission has opened an ethics file on Takeda, who is also an IOC member and chairs its marketing commission.

Takeda was also re-elected to his post as vice president of the Olympic Council of Asia earlier this month.

(Reporting by Chris Gallagher; Additional reporting by Jack Tarrant; editing by Nick Mulvenney)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: A security guard walks past in front of the Bank of Japan headquarters in Tokyo
FILE PHOTO: A security guard walks past in front of the Bank of Japan headquarters in Tokyo, Japan January 23, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo

March 15, 2019

TOKYO (Reuters) – The Bank of Japan kept monetary policy steady on Friday and offered a bleaker assessment of exports and output, nodding to heightening overseas risks that could threaten to derail a fragile economic recovery.

The central bank also modified its view on Japan’s overall economy, pointing to the impact from slowing overseas growth.

In a widely expected move, the BOJ maintained its short-term interest rate target at minus 0.1 percent and a pledge to guide 10-year government bond yields around zero percent.

The decision on maintaining its interest rate targets was made by a 7-2 vote with board members Goushi Kataoka and Yutaka Harada dissenting.

The central bank said exports were showing some weakness recently. At its previous review in January, it had said they were “increasing as a trend.”

BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda will hold a news conference at 3:30 p.m. (0630 GMT) to explain the policy decision.

(Reporting by Leika Kihara, Stanley White, Tetsushi Kajimoto and Kaori Kaneko; Editing by Chris Gallagher and Chang-Ran Kim)

Source: OANN

2018 Asian Games - Athletics
Athletics – 2018 Asian Games – Men’s Javelin Throw, Final – GBK Main Stadium, Jakarta, Indonesia – August 27, 2018 – Neeraj Chopra of India in action. REUTERS/Issei Kato

March 15, 2019

By Sudipto Ganguly

MUMBAI (Reuters) – India’s Neeraj Chopra is reluctant to discuss specific targets for the next couple of years but his coach Uwe Hohn has laid out a comprehensive roadmap for the former javelin world junior champion to win a medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Chopra shot to prominence last year when he won javelin gold at both the Commonwealth and Asian Games, bringing rare track-and-field success for India.

His winning throw on the Gold Coast measured 86.47 meters and he followed that up with a 87.43m throw at the Diamond League leg in Doha in May.

At the Asian Games in Jakarta, Chopra took the title with a season’s best throw of 88.06m, placing him sixth in the IAAF’s rankings for 2018.

“Our targets for this year are, besides staying healthy and getting better, to throw 92 meters and finish in the top six at the World Championships in Doha,” Hohn told Reuters in an interview. “Then 94 meters in 2020 and a medal in Tokyo.”

Hohn is the only athlete to throw a javelin over 100m, with his world record of 104.8m for East Germany in 1984. Two years later the men’s javelin was redesigned and its center of gravity was moved forward by four centimeters.

Czech thrower Jan Zelezny, who won three successive Olympic gold medals from 1992, has the five best throws ever with his 1996 world record of 98.48m still standing.

While India is credited with Norman Pritchard’s hurdles silver medals from 1900 before it gained independence from Britain, the world’s second-most populous nation considers itself never to have won an athletics medal at an Olympics.

The 21-year-old Chopra is currently ranked fourth in the IAAF world rankings and is by far the best chance India has of ending that drought in Tokyo next year.

The athlete told Reuters in a recent interview that 2019 will be an even more important year than 2018.

Hohn said Chopra had to be as consistent as he was last year but raise his game further.

“We are also aware that there are a few others in the world, not only from Germany but also in Asia, who are also working to get still better,” he said from an altitude training camp in Potchefstroom, South Africa.

“We are concentrating on taking little steps forward without getting injured and we will see where we get with this.”

Chopra suffered a setback with an elbow injury late last year and also needs to work on his technique, Hohn said.

“We are working to improve in many ways and adjust the training to his needs and ability at all times and we will continue this in cooperation with his physio,” he added.

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Figure Skating - ISU Grand Prix Rostelecom Cup 2018 - Men's Free Skating
FILE PHOTO: Figure Skating – ISU Grand Prix Rostelecom Cup 2018 – Men’s Free Skating – Moscow, Russia – November 18, 2018 Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan reacts after collecting his gold medal REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

March 15, 2019

By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) – A figure skating showdown between Olympic gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu and reigning world champion Nathan Chen is set to dominate next week’s world championships in Saitama as the two face off for the first time in over a year.

Hanyu, who has aggravated a right ankle injury, was forced to drop out of last year’s Japan nationals and the Grand Prix Final, where Chen claimed the crown for a second year running, meaning they have not competed against each other since the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

There, Chen bombed out of the short program in 17th place but skated an incredible free with five clean quad jumps that catapulted him to fifth.

Japan’s Hanyu, skating on painkillers after injuring his ankle in a practice fall, became the first man in over 50 years to win back-to-back Olympic figure skating gold medals.

Though juggling practice and classes as a Yale University freshman, the 19-year-old Chen became U.S. champion for the third straight year in January with a powerful free skate.

“Worlds is a whole other ballgame,” Chen said at the time.

“I’m really excited for it. I’m going to start training as best as I can for it.”

Hanyu has not competed since last November when he won the Rostelecom Cup with the biggest point spread ever, but coach Brian Orser said the 24-year-old was determined to perform at his peak on home ice.

“He is a good, strong competitor and the worlds are in Japan, so he wants to be on top form,” Orser told reporters at the European championships in January.

Hanyu has another incentive – the arena in Saitama, just north of Tokyo, is where he won the first of his two world titles in 2014.

The pair face a challenge from Japan’s Shoma Uno, who grabbed Grand Prix silver for the second year in a row and took gold at the Four Continents meet in February with a record-breaking free skate score under new rules in effect this season.

“I told myself that I could do it and skated without thinking about anything,” said the soft-spoken 21-year-old, who won silver at Pyeongchang and has spent his career in the shadow of the charismatic Hanyu.

LADIES TITLE UP FOR GRABS

With 2018 champion Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada sitting out the season, the race for the ladies title is wide open.

Olympic champion Alina Zagitova will be seeking to atone for the 2018 worlds when the 16-year-old fell three times in her free skate and finished fifth overall, the Russian’s only loss of the 2017-2018 season.

But a growth spurt last year and an uneven season, which saw her finish second in the Grand Prix Final despite topping the podium in both her Grand Prix events and holding four world records under the new point system, means victory is far from certain.

Zagitova’s major challenge is likely to come from Japanese 16-year-old Rika Kihira, whose increasingly consistent jumps, including the triple axel, saw her win a surprise gold at the Grand Prix Final and then another at the Four Continents.

Kihira’s season has also seen some wobbles, however, as foot problems saw her take just silver at the Japan nationals.

Also likely to be in the mix is two-times world champion Evgenia Medvedeva, who sat out the meet last year due to a foot stress fracture that hampered much of her 2017-2018 season.

The 19-year-old, who was denied gold in Pyeongchang by compatriot Zagitova, took the highly unusual step for a Russian skater last year in leaving home to train with Orser in Canada.

She has struggled this season and even replaced her short program halfway through. But in February she topped the podium at the Russian nationals, winning a berth for the worlds.

In ice dancing, French team Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who narrowly lost out on Olympic gold in Pyeongchang after a clasp on Papadakis’s costume came undone, have had an uneven season due to Cizeron suffering a back injury.

However, they came back strong to claim gold in the European Championships and set a world record.

They face competition from U.S. team Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, who won the Grand Prix Final.

The World Figure Skating Championships run from March 18 to 24.

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Pedestrians are reflected on an electronic board showing stock prices outside a brokerage in Tokyo
FILE PHOTO: Pedestrians are reflected on an electronic board showing stock prices outside a brokerage in Tokyo, Japan December 27, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

March 15, 2019

By Shinichi Saoshiro

TOKYO (Reuters) – Asian stocks made modest gains on Friday, tracking improved global sentiment after UK lawmakers voted to delay Brexit and as a weaker yen supported Japanese shares, but a fresh flare up in U.S.-China trade concerns is expected to cap gains.

MSCI broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan inched up 0.06 percent.

Japan’s Nikkei climbed 0.9 percent and South Korea’s KOSPI rose 0.45 percent.

Global markets drew some relief overnight with European stocks rising to a five-month high, boosted by strength in the banking sector after Britain’s parliament voted to reject a disorderly Brexit. [.EU]

But the S&P 500 dipped 0.1 percent, snapping a three-day winning run, and the Nasdaq shed 0.2 percent on Thursday in the wake of uncertainty over when a U.S.-China trade deal would be reached. [.N]

A summit to seal a trade deal between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will not happen at the end of March as previously discussed because more work is needed in negotiations, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Thursday.

“Initial expectations were for the trade talks to wrap up in March. So any delay causes the markets to automatically assume that the negotiations are not going well, and this is a negative factor for equities,” said Masahiro Ichikawa, senior strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Asset Management in Tokyo.

In the currency market, the pound was 0.1 percent higher at $1.3256, trimming some of the heavy losses suffered overnight.

Sterling retreated 0.75 percent on Thursday as investors geared up for British Prime Minister Theresa May to try again to win approval for her Brexit deal. [GBP/]

British lawmakers voted on Thursday to seek a delay in Britain’s exit from the European Union, setting the stage for Prime Minister May to renew efforts to get her divorce deal approved by parliament next week.

The dollar held gains having snapped its four-day losing streak to a group of six major peers.

The dollar index was little changed at 96.717 after rising 0.25 percent on Thursday to bounce back from a nine-day trough of 96.385.

The greenback rose as U.S. Treasury yields climbed from two-month lows marked earlier in the week, driven by corporate supply. [US/]

The dollar was steady at 111.76 yen after climbing 0.5 percent the previous day.

The yen traded in a narrow range ahead of the Bank of Japan’s policy decision due later on Friday, with the central bank widely expected to keep interest rates unchanged.

The euro edged up 0.05 percent to $1.1309 after slipping 0.2 percent overnight.

U.S. crude oil futures declined 0.1 percent to $58.54 per barrel, losing some steam after a recent surge but holding close to a four-month peak of $58.74 brushed on Thursday.

Oil prices soared to the four-month high as investors focused on global production cuts and supply disruptions in Venezuela. [O/R]

(Editing by Sam Holmes)

Source: OANN

A man works to load a container on a truck at an industrial port in Tokyo
A man works to load a container on a truck at an industrial port in Tokyo, Japan, February 22, 2019. Picture taken on February 22, 2019. To match Insight JAPAN-COMPANIES/CHINA. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-hoon

March 14, 2019

By Tetsushi Kajimoto

JOETSU, Japan (Reuters) – In snow country along Japan’s northern coast, a small manufacturer of precision moulds is feeling the pain of China’s economic slowdown.

Orders have slowed to a trickle at Nagumo Seisakusho Co, which supplies big auto-parts makers such as Denso Corp and Aisin Seiki Co, and the company may keep salaries flat or even reduce them in the coming fiscal year.

Manufacturers across Japan depend heavily on customers in China, the world’s second-biggest economy, to buy their products, especially the parts and equipment that reach China’s factory floor and fuel its domestic and export growth.

Automotive chipmaker Renesas Electronics Corp last week said it would suspend production at some plants for up to two months as it braces for China’s growth to slow further. In recent months, other big companies such as factory-robot makers Yaskawa Electric Corp and Fanuc Corp; Mitsubishi Electric Corp, trading house Mitsui & Co and toilet giant Toto Ltd have blamed China as they cut profit forecasts.

But the impact of China’s wobble is worse for manufacturers nearer the start of the supply chain, like tiny Nagumo. It employs 100 people to create precision press moulds other Japanese manufacturers use to make car parts and other products for the China market.

On the nondescript 4,000-square-metre (43,000-square-foot) factory floor in Nagumo’s main Sanwa plant, grey-clad workers, some wearing blue surgical masks, busied themselves during a recent day designing moulds by computer, then milling, stamping and assembling dies.

But the normalcy belies tough times for Nagumo, which makes all of its products on demand.

“Orders have stalled suddenly since January. Many of our clients are car-parts makers, and they have slammed on the brakes for orders recently,” at least through March, said president Hiroshi Komemasu.

“It is said that when China sneezes, Japan catches a cold,” Komemasu told Reuters recently on the factory floor. “I strongly feel that the trade war is affecting even small firms like us.”

RIPPLE EFFECTS

The emptiest section of the facility was the busiest. Nagumo’s five sales staff were often out of the office hunting new customers to make up for the drop-off in orders.

The company, founded as a fiber-processing company in the immediate aftermath of World War Two, is based in Joetsu, a quiet city of about 200,000 people 225 kilometers (140 miles) northwest of Tokyo.

Far from the bustle of Japan’s biggest cities, Joetsu is known for a festival, a museum and a mascot celebrating an Austro-Hungarian general who taught cross-country skiing to Japan’s Imperial Army in the early 1900s.

Sharp slowdowns for upstream manufacturers like Nagumo bode ill for Japan as a whole, as smaller companies employ seven in 10 Japanese workers, and weak demand points to smaller shipments by bigger firms down the road.

Komemasu would not discuss Nagumo’s specific customers, but said one had slashed its orders by half.

Unlisted Nagumo managed to stay in the black for the 2018 calendar year, but probably lost money in the fiscal year, which ends this month, Komemasu said. Declining orders threaten its forecast of sales edging up 6 percent this year to 1.9 billion yen ($17 million).

Nagumo executives, worried about sales, have become reluctant to raise wages. After increasing base pay for three years, the company hopes to keep overall pay flat in the coming fiscal year, which starts in April, Komemasu said.

Such constriction could ripple through to other Japanese manufacturers – now in annual wage negotiations – reinforcing concerns that trade friction will hurt salaries and consumer spending nationwide.

Japanese giants such as Toyota Motor Corp and Panasonic Corp offered smaller pay increases at annual wage talks on Wednesday, tempering hopes that domestic consumption will offset external risks to growth.

TRADE WAR

Despite signs that U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping may be nearing a truce in the U.S.-China trade war, the collateral damage for Japan may persist.

“The U.S.-China trade war won’t be resolved entirely. Both sides may reach a vague compromise, but that doesn’t mean everything will be rosy for China’s external demand,” said Toru Nishihama, emerging-market economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.

“Downward pressure will mount on Japanese exporters and manufacturers as the global economy slows further,” Nishihama said, adding that as Beijing focuses on supporting the domestic economy, the authorities will tolerate slower demand.

Atsushi Takeda, chief economist at Itochu Research Institute, sees the China slowdown’s impact on Japanese companies lasting for months, countering an expected rebound in car demand late in the year from Beijing’s stimulus measures.

“But we need to bear in mind that the effects of trade friction will play out fully in Japanese exports and output in January-March and the following quarter, after the rush in shipments of Chinese goods to the United States seen late last year,” Takeda said.

“Semiconductors and cars will take a hit in the first half of this year, and other goods related to trade friction will follow suit in the second and third quarters, so the worst will come around April-June for Japanese exporters and manufacturers.”

Last year, about 38 percent of Japan’s exports were electronic parts, semiconductor-manufacturing equipment and heavy machinery used to make other goods, while the auto industry accounted for 23 percent, Finance Ministry data show.

Japan’s manufacturing supply chain, linking small firms like Nagumo to Japan’s industrial giants and consumers worldwide, is the China-reliant core of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plan to lift Japan out of decades of deflation and fitful growth.

A much cheaper yen, driven by unprecedented money-printing from the Bank of Japan, has made the country’s exports more competitive globally. This has spurred a long export boom and record corporate profits, promoting hiring, creating the tightest labor market since the 1970s and delivering modest pay raises.

But domestic consumption has remained tepid and export demand – especially from China – has slumped, threatening to derail what could be Japan’s longest postwar expansion.

This year has seen the biggest monthly export drop in two years, with a plunge in China-bound shipments, a big drop in machinery orders signaling weaker capital spending ahead, a weak wage outlook and dampening business sentiment in the Reuters Tankan survey.

The government last month cut its assessment of factory output and profits, and indicators this month suggest the expansion may have halted.

In Joetsu, Kenichi Watabe, head of Nagumo’s general-affairs division, says the company has “managed to make ends meet as our sales staff dashed here and there trying to attract new customers and secure new orders.”

Nagumo’s workforce is now half its peak due to past layoffs, Watabe said.

But company president Komemasu said squeezing too hard would cause lasting damage.

“We, like everyone else, tell employees to turn off the lights and refrain from purchasing unnecessary things in a downturn,” he said. “But we won’t curb investment in human capital and R&D.”

(Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by William Mallard)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: A security guard walks past in front of the Bank of Japan headquarters in Tokyo
FILE PHOTO: A security guard walks past in front of the Bank of Japan headquarters in Tokyo, Japan January 23, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato

March 14, 2019

By Leika Kihara

TOKYO (Reuters) – The Bank of Japan is likely to stand pat on monetary policy on Friday but temper its optimism that robust exports and factory output will underpin growth, a nod to heightened overseas risks that threaten to derail a fragile economic recovery.

Factories across the globe slammed on the brakes last month as demand was hit by the U.S.-China trade war, slowing global growth and political uncertainty in Europe ahead of Britain’s departure from the European Union.

Such weak signs have forced major central banks to pause in raising interest rates and cast doubt on the BOJ’s repeatedly-stated assessment that overseas economies “continue to grow steadily”.

Many in the BOJ expect Japan’s economy to emerge from the current soft patch in the second half of this year, when Beijing’s stimulus plans could lift Chinese demand and underpin global growth, sources have told Reuters.

But there is uncertainty on how quickly global demand could rebound, adding to woes for Japanese companies already feeling the pinch from slowing Chinese demand, analysts say.

“The BOJ likely won’t change its view that the economy is sustaining momentum to achieve its price target. But it’s probably aware of heightening risks to the price outlook,” said Mari Iwashita, chief market economist at Daiwa Securities.

“If both the economy and prices prove to be weak, the BOJ may be forced to concede that the momentum is diminishing and ponder additional monetary easing,” she said.

At a two-day rate review ending on Friday, the BOJ is widely expected to maintain a pledge to guide short-term interest rates at minus 0.1 percent and 10-year government bond yields around zero percent.

While the BOJ is seen sticking to its assessment that Japan’s economy “continues to expand moderately,” it may slightly modify the language to reflect heightening external risks, the sources say.

In a nod to the increased risks, the BOJ may also offer a bleaker view on exports and output from its current assessment, which says they are “increasing as a trend.”

The BOJ faces a dilemma. Years of heavy money printing have dried up market liquidity and hurt commercial banks’ profits, stoking concern over the rising risks of prolonged easing.

And yet, subdued inflation has left the BOJ well behind other major central banks in dialing back crisis-mode policies, leaving it with little ammunition to battle the next recession.

The BOJ’s nine-member board is split between those who see room to ramp up stimulus, and others who are more wary of the rising cost of prolonged easing.

But the central bank’s dwindling policy tool-kit means the hurdle for additional easing remains high, analysts say.

The biggest worry among BOJ policymakers is that weakening exports and output will hurt corporate sentiment, prompting firms to delay capital expenditure and wage hikes.

Markets are thus focusing on the BOJ’s “tankan” quarterly business sentiment survey, due out on April 1, for clues on whether further easing could be on the table, analysts say.

(Reporting by Leika Kihara; Editing by Sam Holmes)

Source: OANN

Shadow of of Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike is seen on the logo of Tokyo 2020 Olympic games during the Olympic and Paralympic flag-raising ceremony at Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Tokyo
FILE PHOTO: A shadow of of Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike is seen on the logo of Tokyo 2020 Olympic games during the Olympic and Paralympic flag-raising ceremony at Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Tokyo, Japan, September 21, 2016. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

March 14, 2019

MUMBAI (Reuters) – Sony Pictures Networks India (SPN) has won the broadcast rights in India and the subcontinent for next year’s Tokyo Olympics, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said on Thursday.

SPN, owned by Sony Corp, was awarded the rights across all media platforms and will also broadcast the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne next year.

The Pyeongchang Winter Games were not broadcast on television channels in India and were only available on the IOC’s own Olympic channel and digital platforms.

India’s huge market is a major draw for sponsors and advertisers.

“As a dynamic sports and media market, India and the subcontinent is an important strategic region for Olympic broadcasting,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in a statement.

“The IOC is pleased to be working with Sony Pictures Networks India to collaborate together to bring the best coverage of Tokyo 2020 and the Youth Olympic Games to fans across the region…”

The IOC and SPN will also work together to create a permanent Olympic channel on Sony’s digital platform SonyLIV.

Besides broadcasting the NBA in India, SPN also had the rights for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

They broadcast the Champions League, Spain’s La Liga and Italy’s Serie A while also owning cricket rights including Australia, England and South Africa.

“The Olympic Games is the largest and most prestigious international sports competition in the world with over 200 countries participating,” SPN Chief Executive N.P. Singh said.

“The addition of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 broadcast and digital rights complements our portfolio of International sports events and properties.”

(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Toby Davis)

Source: OANN

BOJ Governor Kuroda attends a news conference at the BOJ headquarters in Tokyo
FILE PHOTO: Bank of Japan (BOJ) Governor Haruhiko Kuroda attends a news conference at the BOJ headquarters in Tokyo, Japan July 31, 2018. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

March 14, 2019

By Kaori Kaneko

TOKYO (Reuters) – Economists gave mixed marks to the Bank of Japan’s six-year, super-loose monetary policy under Governor Haruhiko Kuroda, with ratings split among “good,” “satisfactory” and “improvement needed,” a Reuters poll showed.

The assessment comes amid expectations the central bank will start normalizing its monetary policy, which was intended to spur inflation. That included buying up assets to flood the monetary system with cash and setting a target for the government bond-yield curve.

But the experiment has failed to lift inflation to the BOJ’s 2 percent target — core CPI has been hovering at around 1 percent for months. It did help to weaken the yen, which has been a boon to Japan’s exporters and supported the stock market.

Out of 37 economists who answered an extra question on Kuroda’s management over the six years, one rated it “excellent” and 11 “good.” Ten analysts each said “satisfactory” and “improvement needed”. Five said “unsatisfactory.”

Some economists said Kuroda should be given credit for lifting Japan out of persistent deflation, when falling prices dragged on economic growth and wages.

“The BOJ has carried out aggressively what it could and helped make Japan’s economy no longer in deflation, which was the big achievement,” said Atsushi Takeda, chief economist at Itochu Economic Research Institute.

Others said the central bank needs to take stock of why its policy has failed to achieve the desired results and adopt a more flexible approach.

“The BOJ needs to carry out comprehensive assessment of its yield curve control policy,” said Mari Iwashita, chief market economist at Daiwa Securities. “It should be more flexible in how it defines the 2 percent inflation target,” echoing similar recent comments from Finance Minister Taro Aso.

The decline in Japan’s bond yields because of the BOJ’s policy has taken a toll on Japanese banks by narrowing or even erasing the profit margin on loans, economists warned.

“Politically, it will probably be difficult for the BOJ to scrap its 2 percent inflation target, but the central bank should have managed monetary policy in a balanced manner, taking into consideration of side effects,” said Izuru Kato, chief economist at Totan Research.

About two-thirds of the economists, 23 of 36, believed that the optimal target for Japan’s consumer price index was about 1 percent. Nine said it was around 2 percent. In last June’s poll, economists were split on that question.

Most economists surveyed — 29 of 39 — say the BOJ’s next move will be to tighten its monetary policy. The remaining 10 predict the bank will ease further, up from nine last month.

The BOJ may wait to make a move until it can assess the effect of a planned sales tax hike in October from 8 percent to 10 percent.

“The BOJ will be reluctant to ease further. Side effects from the current policy are already the center of much discussion,” said Bjørn Tangaa Sillemann, an economist at Danske Bank. “Tightening measures are not likely to be discussed before the economy has started clear of the sales tax hike in October.”

The BOJ is likely to maintain its stimulus program and warn of growing overseas risks at this week’s rate review, sources have told Reuters

As for their outlook on inflation, economists project nationwide core CPI, which includes oil products but not fresh food, will rise 0.7 percent in the new fiscal year, which starts in April, and 0.8 percent in the following fiscal year.

They predict Japan’s economy will grow 0.6 percent both years, the poll found, compared with 0.7 percent and 0.5 percent expected in the February survey.

(Reporting by Kaori Kaneko, polling by Khushboo Mittal, editing by Malcolm Foster, Larry King)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO : A man is reflected on an electronic board showing a graph analyzing recent change of Nikkei stock index outside a brokerage in Tokyo
FILE PHOTO : A man is reflected on an electronic board showing a graph analyzing recent change of Nikkei stock index outside a brokerage in Tokyo, Japan, January 7, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo

March 14, 2019

By Ayai Tomisawa

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s food firms, once seen as a rare group of winners in the country’s fight against deflation, are falling out of favor with investors as consumers reject price hikes on many household products.

Food company shares have only added 2.8 percent this year, compared with a 7.5 percent gain in the Topix, which in turn underperformed the world’s many other equity indexes.

(For a graphic on ‘Topix sectors’ click https://tmsnrt.rs/2F8BI2A)

Prices of food items including soft drinks, yogurt, ramen noodles and ice cream, will go up from this spring, pushed up by higher labor and transportation costs.

At the same time, the increase in retail prices firms can expect to deliver will be capped by consumer resistance and what economists describe as Japan’s deflationary mindset.

“Even if companies can raise their top lines, they would be struggling to make profits due to rising costs and that’s the main challenge that food makers are facing right now,” said Keita Kubota, senior investment manager at Aberdeen Standard Investment, adding that the earnings from Coca-Cola and Suntory do not bode well for the food industry.

“While there are lots of price hikes planned in 2019, we still don’t know how much these price hikes would lead to profits.”

Indeed, many companies, such as Coca-Cola Bottlers Japan Holdings Inc, Suntory Beverage & Food and potato chips maker Calbee Inc, have warned of falls in profits as the planned price hikes fail to cover rising upstream costs.

Mizuho Securities says the combined operating profit for 20 Japanese food companies for the December quarter fell 5 percent year-on-year.

In January, Coca-Cola Japan said it would raise prices on some of its large bottled beverages in April. This, however, would not help counter the full impact of rising costs and on Feb. 14 it said it expected a 29 percent hit to its 2019 annual profit.

The next day, its share price tumbled 13 percent to a 2-1/2 year low, around where it has been trading since.

(For a graphic on ‘Japan food companies’ click https://tmsnrt.rs/2F8nC19)

It’s a similar picture in other parts of the sector with Suntory Beverage to raise its beverage prices in May and forecasting a 17 percent drop in annual net profit. Calbee will raise its potato chips prices in May and has slashed its operating profit outlook by 8.8 percent for the fiscal year through March.

The sector’s market underperformance contrasts with three to four years ago, when investors cheered firms’ food price hikes, buoyed by hopes that monetary and fiscal stimulus would help businesses pass on costs to customers and stoke a virtuous consumption cycle.

Now, however, not even an exemption for food from a planned sales tax hike in October has been able help stocks in the sector.

That’s partly because of still high valuations: food maker shares currently trade at 18.6-times earnings, compared with a multiple of 13 for Topix and 9.8 for the auto sector.

“The government failed to counter falling consumption when they raised sales tax in 2014. Consumer sentiment hasn’t changed since then,” said Hiroyuki Ueno, a senior strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Asset Management.

“Since valuations have become too expensive, we want to avoid food shares.”

(Reporting by Ayai Tomisawa; Editing by Sam Holmes)

Source: OANN

AbemaTV's staffs prepare for filming at its studio in Tokyo
AbemaTV’s staffs prepare for filming at its studio in Tokyo, Japan, February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-hoon

March 14, 2019

By Sam Nussey

TOKYO (Reuters) – On a Friday night at a downtown Tokyo television studio, 12 teen models with cutesy nicknames like Ayamin and Kyokyo are waiting nervously to find out who has won coveted spots on the cover of Popteen magazine, a Japanese fashion bible.

The girls, sporting a range of trendy styles, are the stars of “Popteen Cover Girl War,” a hit show from internet upstart AbemaTV that may signal a new direction for Japanese television.

Eschewing the pricy serials and star-studded films that have helped companies like Netflix upend the traditional TV business in the U.S., AbemaTV is betting on low-budget, reality-based fare with colorful graphics, relatable young faces and a relentless focus on generating social media buzz.

The approach has pulled in millions of young viewers, convincing some advertisers and industry analysts that AbemaTV has found a lucrative new model.

“It’s a generation used to rapidly processing information,” Tatsuhiko Taniguchi, head of AbemaTV, said of his young viewers. Dramas are put together “as if we are stuffing in twice the amount of screenplay,” he added.

Japan’s traditional broadcasters, boxed in by government regulations and concerned about upsetting their regional stations, have mostly left the internet field clear for upstarts like AbemaTV and foreign players like Netflix and Amazon.com.

Yet AbemaTV remains an unproven bet for its biggest backer, online ad agency CyberAgent, which launched the network three years ago with TV Asahi. CyberAgent spent 20 billion yen ($179.73 million) on the venture in the fiscal year that ended in September, much of that on programming, against revenues of just 6 billion yen.

CyberAgent’s stock price is down 40 percent from last July’s all time high at a time when its advertising and gaming units are also under pressure.

And the overseas players continue to make inroads: In addition to subtitling their large back catalogues, they are offering a growing library of local-language content such as Netflix’s “Terrace House.”

But CyberAgent founder and CEO Susumu Fujita, who at age 26 became the youngest CEO ever to take a company public in Japan, remains confident.

“We are not rushing to reach profitability,” said Fujita, 45, who estimates that revenue will double this year on the same amount of spending.

AbemaTV has around 8 million viewers each week. Goldman Sachs analyst Masaru Sugiyama sees the venture turning profitable next year and hitting 164 billion yen in revenue in 2024.

With big consumer brands looking for online advertising opportunities, “there’s a huge need for professional content on the internet, but there is a scarcity of that, especially in Japan,” Sugiyama said.

HIT MACHINE

AbemaTV viewers can watch about 25 ad-supported channels showing everything from 24-hour news to anime to Korean dramas to fishing via an app or in a browser.

Along with an ad-supported catch-up service for recently aired shows, for more hardcore fans there is also a 960-yen-per-month service providing access to every show AbemaTV has aired.

Japanese TV shows use lots of explanatory on-screen text, designed to capture viewers zapping between channels, along with wide shots of terraced rows of entertainers.

By contrast, AbemaTV’s smartphone-focused approach features a cleaner look with frequent close-ups.

AbemaTV hits include a variety show featuring former members of Japan’s once-biggest boy band, SMAP, and a dating show in which the female contestants and viewers try to identify which of the male contestants is a “wolf” lying to gain their affections.

During the run of “Popteen,” its stars inspired fierce loyalties among fans on social media as they completed tasks like been photographed while being splattered with goo, with their final ranking partly determined by viewer votes.

“In the end those who revealed their weak side got cheered on more than the girls who were perfectly cute,” said Airi Tsukioka, a producer on the show. Social media reaction informed the direction the show took, she said.

DIGITAL INTERFERENCE

AbemaTV traces its roots to Fujita’s participation from 2013 in discussions on the future of TV Asahi’s programming. One central question was how to meet the threat from foreign players like Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Fujita’s answer was AbemaTV.

TV Asahi holds a 37 percent stake, helping reduce the burden on CyberAgent. AbemaTV gained another vote of confidence in October when it won the backing of two of Cyberagent’s rivals, Dentsu and Hakuhodo DY Holdings, which have taken 5 percent and 3 percent stakes respectively.

The investment brings on board two players who between them control a big chunk of Japan’s ad market and could help drive big brands to the platform.

Dentsu figures released last month showed that in 2018 internet spending grew 17 percent compared to a year earlier. TV spending shrank by almost 2 percent.

“We want to support the growth of new media,” said Arinobu Soga, Dentsu’s chief financial officer.

($1 = 111.2800 yen)

(Reporting by Sam Nussey; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Gerry Doyle)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: India's boxer MC Mary Kom listens to her coach during a training session in Pune
FILE PHOTO: India’s boxer MC Mary Kom listens to her coach during a training session at Balewadi Stadium in Pune, about 190 km (118 miles) from Mumbai, March 12, 2012. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

March 14, 2019

By Sudipto Ganguly

MUMBAI (Reuters) – M.C. Mary Kom has spent close to two decades slugging it out in the ring but even at 36 one of the most decorated women boxers in the amateur game has no intention of quitting before she gets a chance to land the ultimate prize in Tokyo next year.

‘Magnificent Mary’, as she is known in India, was a bronze medalist at the 2012 Olympics in London and won a record sixth gold medal at the World Amateur Boxing Championships last year.

Her most recent gold came after a gap of eight years and, with the 2020 Olympics on the horizon, the trailblazing mother of three is not done yet.

“I believe the hunger and desire to take on challenges has kept me going,” Mary Kom told Reuters in an interview.

“I always like to challenge myself and accomplish them, it keeps me motivated to take on new ones.

“The new challenge for me is to win my first ever Olympic gold medal.”

The pint-sized puncher, who has also won gold medals at the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games, won her first world championship silver in 2001 and had targeted the 2016 Rio Games as her swansong.

Failing to qualify for the quadrennial showpiece was a heartbreaking setback given the amount of time and hard work she had put in for training, and she conceded the thought of hanging up her gloves had crossed her mind.

“It has happened at times,” said Mary Kom, who last month signed a two-year deal with Puma to be their ambassador for women’s training in India.

“Because family is equally important, but I believe that’s where I have been really lucky as my family has always motivated me to continue boxing and since it is my only passion I have always wanted to achieve more.”

As well as her opponents, Mary Kom has also had to fight negative perceptions about women’s boxing in what is still a socially conservative country.

In that regard, she considers herself fortunate to come from the state of Manipur in India’s northeast, where boys and girls are treated more equally.

In some Indian states, gender bias and sex-selective abortion are not uncommon and girls are often viewed as a financial burden because of the dowry given by the bride’s family to the groom – an illegal but prevailing social custom.

Mary Kom was also greeted with scepticism when she started her career in the ring and had to keep it a secret from her parents. It was only when her picture appeared in a local newspaper that she confessed she was a fighter.

But success came quickly and she was a world champion before her marriage. The doubters were back on her case when she returned to the ring after starting her family but Mary Kom has continued to prove them wrong.

BALANCING MOTHERHOOD AND BOXING

The face of the campaign to get women’s boxing into the Olympics in London, Mary Kom’s story ultimately captured the imagination of the country’s film industry and a biopic of her life came out in 2014.

She now has three boys of her own to raise and balancing boxing and motherhood is a daily challenge, and one that is only going to get harder as the Tokyo Olympics approach.

Mary Kom won her latest world title at light flyweight but at the Olympics has to move up to flyweight, the lightest of the five categories in Tokyo.

In the past she has also faced problems in finding the right sparring partner.

“I am focusing on my diet and doing the regular training,” said the Muhammad Ali fan. “The weight category will be tough and you have to be really, really focused as there are some good boxers in that category.

“I have a good coach and good support staff who are now capable enough to condition me for the best of opponents and I am going to continue with this.”

Boxing’s future as an Olympic sport is shrouded in uncertainty with planning for the Tokyo Olympic tournament on hold due to financial and governance issues in amateur boxing’s governing body AIBA.

But Mary Kom is not going to allow her attention to stray.

“I think as athletes our focus is to play to the best of our potential and not think of anything else,” she said. “Hopefully things will be taken care of.

“My job is to continue to train and be in the best version of myself. I should be ready for any condition.”

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)

Source: OANN


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