Japan Jan Machine Orders Jump but May Fall Back

Japan's core machinery orders posted their biggest rise in 11 years in January, but economists warned that the 19.6 percent jump may be a one-off and that orders were likely to retreat in February.

The increase in core private-sector machinery orders, a highly volatile series seen as an indicator of capital spending in the coming six to nine months, was almost seven times as big as expected.

But a Cabinet Office official said the rise was due mainly to orders from the steel and transportation sectors such as for railway cars, and economists said one-off factors including the jump in train car orders means the headline figure will fall back in February.

"The outlook for the global economy remains uncertain," said Takeshi Minami, chief economist at Norinchukin Research Institute. "It's possible that machinery orders figures could drop in February and March following the expectedly large increase in January," he added.

Despite the rise, Tokyo stocks and the dollar fell on mounting signs that the U.S. economy may already be in recession combined with renewed worries about fragile markets.

Shares were down about 1 percent, and the dollar slipped back towards a record low against the euro and an eight-year low versus the yen.

Still, the jump in machinery orders eased some concerns that rising raw material costs are hurting corporate spending.

"Although machinery orders are likely to be moderate in the first quarter, the data suggests that capital spending may not suffer such a big drop as some had feared," said Junko Nishioka, Japan economist at ABN Amro.

Corporate sector strength has been a major engine of Japan's economic recovery, but recent data have suggested that it may be losing steam.

Japanese corporate capital spending fell 7.7 percent in October-December, marking the largest drop in five years, a Ministry of Finance survey showed last week.

That added to growing worries about a U.S. recession, flagging domestic industrial production and worsening consumer sentiment at home.

Following weak capital spending figures in the MOF survey, economists now expect October-December GDP growth to be revised down to 0.6 percent, compared with a preliminary reading of 0.9 percent, a Reuters poll showed last week.

Revised growth figures are due out on Wednesday.

The Bank of Japan lowered its assessment of the economy in a monthly report last Friday, saying growth was slowing due to a domestic housing slump and high energy and raw materials prices.

Separate data from the BOJ showed on Monday that the balance of outstanding loans held by most Japanese banks rose 0.8 percent in February from a year earlier, the highest annual increase since last May.

Japan's most widely watched measure of money supply, M2 plus certificates of deposit, rose 2.3 percent in February from a year earlier, compared with a median forecast of a 2.1 percent rise.