- - Thursday, May 19, 2011

TOKYO — Japan’s economy has shrunk over the past six months and might not recover until autumn because of declines in consumer spending, factory output and exports in wake of the tsunami and nuclear crisis.

Gross domestic product fell 0.9 percent in the first quarter of this year, a 3.7 percent drop from the same period last year, according to government data. The drop follows a 0.8 percent decline in the last quarter of last year.

Analysts expect the decline to continue in the second quarter of this year. Power shortages and a disruption of supply lines also could slow the economy until reconstruction spending kicks in.

“The Japanese economy is expected to remain weak for the time being,” Economy Minister Kaoru Yosano told reporters on Thursday.

Mr. Yosano said the economy likely would shrink further between April and June, but overall it would grow nearly 1 percent in the fiscal year ending March 2012 because of global demand for Japanese goods and services.

“The situation is totally different from the time in the wake of Lehman Brothers’ collapse,” he said, referring to the global investment bank that filed for bankruptcy in 2008. “The Japanese economy is seen to be strong enough to show resilience.”

Japan is one of the United States’ biggest trading partners.

Mr. Yosano said the central bank did enough to support the economy by pumping more money into the system just days after the May 10 earthquake and tsunami. “The Bank of Japan is taking utmost measures allowed under the BOJ law. I have nothing to request from them,” he said.

Japan’s parliament passed a $49 billion budget supplement this month to spur reconstruction spending, and other similar outlays are expected in coming months.

However, economists say Japan’s downturn is worse than expected.

Private consumption, which accounts for about 60 percent of the economy, fell 0.6 percent, after an estimated 500,000 tsunami survivors in northeastern Japan lost their homes and automobiles, and many small businesses were wiped out. Corporate capital spending fell 0.9 percent.

“The nuclear disaster showed just how much is wrong in Japan actually,” said Martin Schulz, senior economist at Fujitsu Research Institute in Tokyo. “And many things that seemed so stable and sure, like electricity supply … are looking not safe at all.”

“The economy was weak before the Great East Japan Earthquake struck … and the full impact of that catastrophe has only just begun to be reflected in the GDP data,” noted Capital Economics, a leading economic research firm.

Former economics minister Heizo Takenaka has estimated that Japan lost about 5 percent of its capital stock on March 11, compared with 2 percent from the Kobe quake in 1995. Many survivors had no insurance to cover quakes and tsunamis.

The National Police Agency estimates at least 200,000 buildings were destroyed, meaning that many small and medium size enterprises — the backbone of Japan’s economy — were liquidated with them.

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