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Rating Action:

Moody's affirms Japan's A1 ratings; maintains stable outlook

 The document has been translated in other languages

24 Oct 2019

Singapore, October 24, 2019 -- Moody's Investors Service ("Moody's") has today affirmed the Government of Japan's A1 long-term foreign currency and local currency issuer and local currency senior unsecured ratings. The outlook is maintained at stable.

Japan's sovereign rating and outlook will continue to be driven over the medium term by the impact of social considerations, including demographics and related social changes, on the economy and public finances. Ageing-related pressure on Japan's growth potential and the government's debt burden in the next few decades represents an immense challenge to the country's policymakers and society, much larger than for most other sovereigns. However, the country's demographic trends offer a window for the government to take action and for societal changes to take place that mitigate the pressure from ageing on Japan's credit metrics. Policy measures in the last few years that have contained government spending and encouraged a significant increase in female labor force participation suggest that this window of opportunity remains open, underpinning Moody's decision to affirm the A1 rating and maintain the stable outlook.

Japan's long-term local- and foreign-currency bond and deposit ceilings remain at Aaa. The short-term foreign-currency bond and deposit ceilings remain at Prime-1.

RATINGS RATIONALE

NEAR-TERM PROSPECTS FOR DEBT STABILIZATION, SHORING UP GOVERNMENT FINANCES AHEAD OF AGEING-RELATED PRESSURE IN THE 2030s

Social considerations including demographics will shape Japan's debt and credit profile. Moody's expects Japan's fiscal and debt metrics to stabilize in the next few years, with a window offered by less severe demographic trends, for the government to implement more measures and shore up its finances ahead of immense pressure starting to build from the mid-2020s and in the 2030s.

Moody's expects the trend of fiscal deficit consolidation, which had started in the fiscal year ending March 2012 (fiscal 2011) and had paused over the past two years, to resume. This view is supported by the step-up in revenue from the recent increase in consumption tax rates and the government's track record of maintaining expenditure restraint, with general government expenditures on a Government Finance Statistics basis falling gradually to 38.4% of GDP in fiscal 2017 from a peak of 40.2% of GDP in fiscal 2012, before rising marginally in each of the last two years.

The pace of population ageing, as measured by the decline in the population of prime working age (between 15 and 64), will slow in the first half of the next decade, before accelerating again from the mid-2020s and more clearly during the 2030s. The consumption tax increase provides some funding towards the associated increase in ageing-related costs.

As the government had tied additional social security expenditure to increased consumption tax receipts, a further delay in the hike would have constrained the expansion of programs such as free early childhood education, which have in part facilitated greater labor force participation and consequently higher employment. In the near term, the fiscal impact of the tax hike in 2019 and 2020 will be blunted by spending aimed at smoothing the volatility of economic activity around the tax hike itself, as well as other measures related to disaster reconstruction and relief that were passed in supplementary budgets last year. While the revenue raised by the consumption tax will be dwarfed by the rise in ageing-related expenditure in the medium to long term, the tax hike is an indication of the government's commitment to take measures that would contribute to stabilizing the debt burden ahead of more severe pressure in the 2030s.

Moody's expects the government to continue to maintain expenditure restraint in the next few years and the deficits to narrow gradually from fiscal 2020. As a result, general government debt will remain stable over the next three to four years, albeit still above 200% of GDP according to Moody's estimates. Debt affordability, as measured by interest payments as a share of general government revenue, will continue to improve further from an estimated 5.1% in fiscal 2019 and a recent high of 7.9% in fiscal 2009.

Further out, in the absence of additional significant fiscal reform, the government's goal of reaching a primary balance surplus by fiscal 2025 will remain out of reach. Over the longer term, heightening demographic pressures render Japan's fiscal and debt position highly sensitive to the impact of both lower potential growth and higher spending outlays resulting from ageing.

TRACTION ON ECONOMIC REFORM LIKELY TO PARTLY OFFSET PRESSURE ON POTENTIAL GROWTH FROM POPULATION DECLINE

Beside upward pressure on ageing-related government spending, the downward pressure on Japan's potential growth from demographic trends will continue, relatively stable in the next few years before intensifying in the medium to long term.

Economic reforms and societal changes can mitigate some of the ageing-related pressure on potential growth. Moody's assesses that Japan's government has effectively implemented a number of measures to that effect, opening prospects for further changes that would prevent a sharp decline in growth potential to extremely low rates.

Government policy has facilitated higher labor force participation and rising numbers of foreign workers, which in turn have driven the rise in the number of employed persons to a record high in 2018 since reaching a trough in 2012. Over this period, participation rates for females and workers aged 65 and above have climbed by four and five percentage points, respectively. The lower participation of female workers relative to males in Japan relative to some other advanced economies suggests further room for convergence, supporting employment growth. The gradual easing of restrictions has led to an expansion of the foreign worker labor force to nearly 1.5 million (2.2% of the total workforce) from 680,000 (1.1% of the total workforce). Moody's expects the rise in foreign workers to continue, aided in part by a new law that allows for greater flows of foreign workers that became effective in April 2019.

Moreover, non-residential fixed capital formation has been revived since the beginning of the decade, following annual average rates of contraction in the 1990s and 2000s. Tight labor markets, as signified by the unemployment rate just above 2% currently, has spurred greater investments in labor-saving technologies. Reforms to corporate governance that were passed in the middle of the decade have also likely contributed to stronger investment.

In the long run, Moody's expect ageing pressures to materialize more significantly given an intensification of demographic pressures, natural limits to rising participation rates and a likely drag on labor productivity growth from an ageing workforce. Sustaining positive rates of potential growth will involve deeper structural reform to reverse the decline in labor productivity or further augment additions to the labor force.

STRONG AND STABLE FUNDING CONDITIONS

Japan's A1 rating is also underpinned by Moody's assessment that the government's capacity to finance the very large stock of debt at extremely low costs.

Strong and stable funding conditions backed by the continued accumulation of private sector savings support this view. In particular, the scale of the household sector's financial assets, against the backdrop of a pronounced "home bias" and a preference for liquid assets, have supported the government's ability to refinance its extraordinarily high debt burden and fund ongoing deficits at affordable costs and in local currency.

The private sector's stock of savings continues to grow with cash and deposits of the household sector rising to 178.0% of GDP as of the second quarter of 2019, up from 175.5% in the same period in 2017; the corresponding increase for the corporate sector was 50.2% from 48.5%. Rising employment has contributed to the overall accumulation of household assets in the context of gradually increasing savings rates.

In this context, the government's funding needs have declined somewhat due to a gradual lengthening in its debt maturity profile and trend fiscal consolidation. The weighted average maturity of Japanese government bonds has risen by more than two years since the beginning of the decade to more than nine years. Consequently, the government has reduced its planned amounts for gross market issuance to a planned JPY148.7 trillion in fiscal 2019 (26.9% of GDP) from a peak of JPY177.5 trillion (35.9% of GDP) in fiscal 2012.

Moreover, the limited reliance on external funding—as of the first quarter of 2019, foreign investors held only 12.7% of outstanding government bonds—further mitigates refinancing risks.

RATIONALE FOR STABLE OUTLOOK

The stable outlook reflects Moody's expectation that Japan will retain its economic and external strengths through a cyclical global downturn. In addition, the very high level of institutional strength will continue to support the credit profile, specifically reinforcing the home bias that underpins the Japanese government's ability to fund its very large debt burden at affordable rates. Moreover, the stable outlook balances the near-term positive impact of reform against only mild progress towards addressing the long-term structural weaknesses related to population ageing.

ENVIRONMENTAL, SOCIAL, GOVERNANCE CONSIDERATIONS

Environmental considerations are not material to Japan's credit profile. While Japan is exposed to a high incidence of natural disasters, which have previously exerted short-term disruptions to economic activity and large fiscal costs for recovery and reconstruction, weighing on GDP growth volatility and adding to government debt, the economy's diversification and strength of the institutions denote significant capacity to absorb these shocks.

As explained above, social considerations are material to Japan's credit profile. Population ageing and a shrinking domestic working-age population weigh on potential growth, while threatening large increases to healthcare and pension-related spending that will exacerbate the government's large debt burden if unaddressed.

Governance considerations relevant to Japan's credit profile are captured in Moody's assessment of institutional strength. Its sound framework of governance is supported by assessments of rule of law, control of corruption and regulatory quality consistent with other developed economies, although policymaking institutions have shown somewhat limited progress in achieving broad policy goals with regards to reflation and fiscal deficit reduction.

WHAT WOULD CHANGE THE RATING UP

Sustained progress on fiscal consolidation and debt reduction, most likely accompanied by policy action that Moody's concluded would materially and sustainably boost nominal growth, and mitigate the economic, social and financial implications of ageing would likely prompt a rating upgrade.

WHAT WOULD CHANGE THE RATING DOWN

Indication that the government is unable to take measures that would effectively mitigate the long-term economic and fiscal costs related to an ageing society would likely prompt a downgrade. In addition, and possibly related, a significant deterioration in the government's ability to refinance its very large stock of debt at affordable rates, as signified by a decline in aggregate domestic savings and/or a structural weakening in the current account balance, would pose downward pressure on Japan's credit profile.

GDP per capita (PPP basis, US$): 44,227 (2018 Actual) (also known as Per Capita Income)

Real GDP growth (% change): 0.8% (2018 Actual) (also known as GDP Growth)

Inflation Rate (CPI, % change Dec/Dec): 0.3% (2018 Actual)

Gen. Gov. Financial Balance/GDP: -3% (2018 Estimate) (also known as Fiscal Balance)

Current Account Balance/GDP: 3.5% (2018 Actual) (also known as External Balance)

Level of economic development: Very High level of economic resilience

Default history: No default events (on bonds or loans) have been recorded since 1983.

On 21 October 2019, a rating committee was called to discuss the rating of the Japan, Government of. The main points raised during the discussion were: The issuer's economic fundamentals, including its economic strength, have not materially changed. The issuer's fiscal or financial strength, including its debt profile, has not materially increased. Other views raised included: The issuer's institutional strength/ framework, have not materially changed. The issuer's governance and/or management, have not materially changed.

The principal methodology used in these ratings was Sovereign Bond Ratings published in November 2018. Please see the Rating Methodologies page on www.moodys.com for a copy of this methodology.

The weighting of all rating factors is described in the methodology used in this credit rating action, if applicable.

REGULATORY DISCLOSURES

For ratings issued on a program, series, category/class of debt or security this announcement provides certain regulatory disclosures in relation to each rating of a subsequently issued bond or note of the same series, category/class of debt, security or pursuant to a program for which the ratings are derived exclusively from existing ratings in accordance with Moody's rating practices. For ratings issued on a support provider, this announcement provides certain regulatory disclosures in relation to the credit rating action on the support provider and in relation to each particular credit rating action for securities that derive their credit ratings from the support provider's credit rating. For provisional ratings, this announcement provides certain regulatory disclosures in relation to the provisional rating assigned, and in relation to a definitive rating that may be assigned subsequent to the final issuance of the debt, in each case where the transaction structure and terms have not changed prior to the assignment of the definitive rating in a manner that would have affected the rating. For further information please see the ratings tab on the issuer/entity page for the respective issuer on www.moodys.com.

For any affected securities or rated entities receiving direct credit support from the primary entity(ies) of this credit rating action, and whose ratings may change as a result of this credit rating action, the associated regulatory disclosures will be those of the guarantor entity. Exceptions to this approach exist for the following disclosures, if applicable to jurisdiction: Ancillary Services, Disclosure to rated entity, Disclosure from rated entity.

Regulatory disclosures contained in this press release apply to the credit rating and, if applicable, the related rating outlook or rating review.

Please see www.moodys.com for any updates on changes to the lead rating analyst and to the Moody's legal entity that has issued the rating.

Please see the ratings tab on the issuer/entity page on www.moodys.com for additional regulatory disclosures for each credit rating.

Christian de Guzman
Senior Vice President
Sovereign Risk Group
Moody's Investors Service Singapore Pte. Ltd.
50 Raffles Place #23-06
Singapore Land Tower
Singapore 48623
Singapore
JOURNALISTS: 852 3758 1350
Client Service: 852 3551 3077

Marie Diron
MD - Sovereign Risk
Sovereign Risk Group
JOURNALISTS: 852 3758 1350
Client Service: 852 3551 3077

Releasing Office:
Moody's Investors Service Singapore Pte. Ltd.
50 Raffles Place #23-06
Singapore Land Tower
Singapore 48623
Singapore
JOURNALISTS: 852 3758 1350
Client Service: 852 3551 3077

No Related Data.
© 2019 Moody’s Corporation, Moody’s Investors Service, Inc., Moody’s Analytics, Inc. and/or their licensors and affiliates (collectively, “MOODY’S”). All rights reserved.

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