Japanese firms want tax hike to proceed, but urge more stimulus to soften economic blow
* Abe vows to proceed with tax hike, some speculate another delay
* 79 pct of firms want tax rise, with 61 pct seeking more stimulus
* Sales tax hike vital to pay for cost of ageing population
* Heavily-indebted govt needs to juggle growth and fiscal reform
TOKYO, April 19 (Reuters) - More than 60 percent of Japanese companies want authorities to go ahead with a sales tax hike in October, but feel that additional government spending is needed to cushion the blow on the economy, a Reuters monthly poll showed.
Speculation lingers that Japan will once again delay raising the tax to 10 percent from 8 percent, even though Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has repeatedly said he will proceed with the increase unless there’s a major economic shock.
Abe has twice postponed the planned tax hike -- needed to meet rising social welfare costs as the population ages -- since the last increase to 8 percent from 5 percent in April 2014 hit consumer spending and triggered an economic slump.
To avoid a repeat of that, Abe’s government has earmarked 2 trillion yen ($17.9 billion) in various spending measures to try to temper any economic downturn.
About 80 percent of companies surveyed say authorities should go ahead with the hike, the poll showed.
Some 18 percent said no extra stimulus was needed, but 61 percent said additional steps are necessary.
“To prevent consumption from slumping after the tax hike, further tax breaks will be needed, such as increasing items subjected to lower tax rates,” a manager of a construction firm wrote in the survey.
Just 21 percent said the planned tax increase should be scrapped altogether, according to the April 3-15 survey.
GROWTH OR REFORM?
Some respondents said boosting government spending defeats the point of the tax hike.
“Raising the tax is meaningless if it involves stimulus to boost spending,” a service firm manager wrote in the survey.
Others expressed concern that the tax hike would undermine Japan’s economic growth, which is already weak.
“Even with higher taxes, government revenue won’t increase because consumer spending will decline and corporate profits will deteriorate,” a manager of an electric machinery maker wrote.
Some economists have warned that Japan could slide into a recession as companies are feeling the impact of the Sino-U.S. trade war and global slowdown, chilling business investment and demand.
Yet Japan needs to shore up its finances as its population rapidly greys. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) urged Japan on Monday to raise the sales tax to as high as 26 percent.
The Reuters Corporate Survey, conducted monthly for Reuters by Nikkei Research, polled 478 large and mid-sized firms with managers responding on condition of anonymity. About 230 firms answered the questions on the sales tax issue.
Asked about their operational plans for the unprecedented 10-day holiday in late April and early May to mark the ascension of the new emperor, 47 percent of companies said they would partially halt operations and 38 percent said they would suspend business completely.
The remaining 15 percent said they don’t plan to stop operations at all.
Nearly half, or 47 percent, said they didn’t expect the long break to impact their business. Some 28 percent said they expected to see a drop in output or sales compared to a year earlier, while a quarter projected an increase.
Some reported seeing a bump up in demand as customers stock up on products to cope with the 10-day break as well as due to uncertainty about Brexit, the survey showed.
($1 = 111.8600 yen)
(Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto Additional reporting by Izumi Nakagawa Editing by Malcolm Foster & Shri Navaratnam)