Japan Update: It’s Much Worse than it Looks
I just got off the phone with several frightened, somewhat dazed survivors of the Japanese earthquake who work in the financial markets, and I thought it important to immediately pass on what they said. Some were clearly terrified.
Japan’s economic outlook now appears far more dire than I anticipated only a day ago. It looks like GDP growth rate is going to instantly flip from +2% to -3%, a swing of -5%, similar to what we saw after the Kobe earthquake in 1995. We have just had a “V” shaped economy dumped in our laps, and we have just embarked on a precipitous down leg. Two very weak quarters will be followed by two strong ones. The initial damage estimate is $60-$120 billion, and that will certainly rise.
Kobe had a larger immediate impact because of its key location as a choke point for the country’s rail and road transportation networks and ports. But the Sendai quake has affected a far larger area. Magnifying the impact is the partial melt down at the Fukushima Dai Ichi nuclear power plant, forcing the evacuation of everyone within a 12 mile radius.
Most major companies, including Toyota, Nissan, Honda, and Sony have shut down all domestic production. Management want to tally death tolls, damage to plant and equipment, and conduct emergency safety reviews. In any case, most employees are unable to get to work because of the complete shutdown of the rail system. Tokyo’s subway system is closed, stranding 25 million residents there.
Electric power shortages are a huge problem. The country’s eight Northern prefectures are now subject to three hour daily black outs and power rationing, including Tokyo. That has closed all manufacturing activity in the most economically vital part of the country.
Panic buying has emptied out every store in the major cities of all food and bottled water. Gas stations were cleaned out of all supplies and reserves, since much of Japan’s refining capacity has been closed. There are 20,000 expatriates waiting at Tokyo’s Narita airport as foreign companies evacuate staff to nearby financial centers in Hong Kong and Singapore. Airlines are diverting aircraft and laying on extra flights to accommodate the traffic.