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Gaining momentum: A man wearing a protective mask walks past the headquarters of the Bank of Japan in Tokyo. The central bank could increase actual expenditure next year, given the possibility of extra budgets. — Reuters

TOKYO: Japan is sticking for now with its goal to balance its budget by the end of March 2026 even after approving record spending for next year.

“As we’ve written in this year’s government plans, we are still looking to reach a primary balance in the fiscal year 2025,” said Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki, shortly after the Cabinet approved a record initial budget of 107.6 trillion yen (RM4 trillion) for the year starting in April.

“We’ll reconfirm this by the end of March, after we’ve taken a closer look at Covid-19’s impact on Japan’s fiscal health,” Suzuki said.

Economists see the goal of balancing the primary budget by the end of March 2026 as unrealistic. The goal can’t be achieved this decade, according to the baseline scenario in a separate government projection. The primary balance excludes debt servicing costs.

Still, the latest budget does offer encouraging signs that Japan is moving out of crisis mode and may be able to review efforts to start reining in the developed world’s biggest debt load over the coming years.

New issuance of bonds to finance the latest budget is down sharply to 36.9 trillion yen (RM1.35 trillion), though that still means Japan is financing more than a third of its spending with debt.

Actual expenditure next year could also rise further, given the possibility of extra budgets. But with the economy taking less of a hit with each new variant of Covid, final outlays for the next fiscal year are more likely to end up lower than this year.

A jump in tax revenue also suggests that the government’s spending blitz during the pandemic has helped limit scarring to the economy and that the recovery will gain momentum once concerns over the omicron variant eases.

In the 2020 fiscal year, Japan put together three extra budgets that added 73 trillion yen (RM2.7 trillion) to total spending.

“If you kill off parts of the economy, everything else falls down like a line of dominoes,” said economist Hiroaki Muto at Sumitomo Life Insurance Co.

“In that sense, Japan’s government should get a pass mark for its current situation.”

Still Muto, like other economists, doesn’t see the 2025 goal as possible. Many analysts see it more as a symbolic effort to reassure investors that Japan does take its debt predicament seriously.

Even before last month’s extra budget, the International Monetary Fund saw public debt hitting 256.9% of gross domestic product this year.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is walking a fine line between seeking longer-term fiscal health while spending enough to both support the economy in the short term, and ensure growth in the long term.


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