TOKYO

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe set on Wednesday an ambitious target to double the number of foreign visitors and the amount of money they spend in the country by 2020 to breathe life into a flagging economy.

Since taking office in late 2012, Abe’s administration has relaxed visa requirements for several Asian countries, which has notably led to an influx of Chinese visitors. An ensuing boom in tourism has been one of the few bright spots of his structural reform agenda.

Abe is looking to reap further benefits from inbound tourism as Tokyo prepares to host the Olympics in 2020. Luring more tourists could also help ease concerns about consistently weak domestic consumption and Japan’s declining population.

Today we have decided a new vision for tourism, Abe said after a meeting with government ministers.

Tourism is an important part of our economic growth strategy, of revitalising local economies and of our goal to raise gross domestic product to 600 trillion yen.

Abe aims to attract 40 million visitors to Japan, which would be about twice as much as the number of tourists who entered Japan last year, a statement showed.

In 2015, tourists spent 3.5 trillion yen ($31.2 billion) in Japan, and Abe wants to more than double that amount to 8 trillion yen by 2020 by relaxing visa requirements further and improving flight access, the statement showed.

Abe will also try to promote more of the country’s national treasures and public parks to guests from overseas.

The government is also targeting 60 million visitors and 15 trillion yen in tourist spending by 2030, the statement showed.

The number of inbound tourists has been hitting record levels since the government began relaxing visa requirements. The benefit was initially seen at department stores in Tokyo, where Chinese tourists bought electronics and clothes in bulk to re-sell in their home country.

The boost to retail sales is now starting to spread to regional economies as more tourists visit temples and shrines in rural areas.

(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2016.



Now that Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen has reiterated yet again that the US central bank plans to "proceed cautiously" as it moves to inch interest rates higher and toward more normal levels, incoming data will be less about how it will impact the Fed's rate-hike timetable and more about what it says about the health of the US economy.

And a spate of key data set for release the rest of the week will give Wall Street fresh color on whether the economy's slowdown in the first quarter is just a blip or something more serious. Following signs that consumer spending has been weak so far in 2016, the Atlanta Federal Reserve has downgraded its estimate for first-quarter growth to 0.6% from 1.4%. But other data, such as consumer confidence, job growth and housing, tell a more upbeat story.

The lastest reading on jobs released early Wednesday was solid. Payroll processor ADP said private employers created 200 new jobs in March, in line with estimates, which bodes well for the government jobs report Friday.

Next up for Wall Street is fresh March manufacturing data in the Chicago region set for release at 9:45 am ET.

But a slew of reports out Friday will provide a much better picture of how the US economy is doing. The biggie is the March employment report. March manufacturing data is also on tap, as are readings on February construction and March vehicle sales.

Talk of a US recession died down last month. Now Wall Street wants to know if the economy can break out above its tepid annual growth rate of 2% to 2.5%.



While the stock market is back near three-year highs and job growth remains strong, US economic growth has hit the skids once more. On Monday, in response to tepid personal spending data, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta marked down its first quarter GDP growth estimate to just 0.6 percent -- down from 1.4 percent just last week.

The downward economic trend is clear. The Q1 GDPNow estimate from the Atlanta Fed is down from the 2.0 percent result posed in the third quarter of 2015, the 2.2 percent average growth rate seen in the first three quarters of 2015, and the 2.4 percent advance seen in 2014.

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The problem, it seems, is that strength in consumer spending (primarily on services) is fading despite relatively stable income growth. Shoppers simply remain cautious at a time when they are needed to aggressively offset the slowdowns in corporate profitability and factory activity. Those slowdowns are driven by falling labor productivity and rising labor costs as well as low energy and commodity prices and currency volatility.

More recently, based on survey responses to the March manufacturing PMI report (which missed expectations by the most since 2013), there has been concern about the increasingly contentious US presidential campaign.

Mondays spending data included a downward revision to Januarys numbers that dropped a 0.5 percent month-over-month surge to a paltry 0.1 percent expansion, the weakest result in over a year. The savings rate, meanwhile, climbed to the highest since 2012.

Capital Economics now estimates first-quarter real consumption growth is likely to clock in at around a 2.0 percent annualized rate, down from the 2.4 percent rate seen in the fourth quarter of 2015 and a disappointment given that employment continued to grow at a solid pace in the first quarter and households enjoyed a further boost in purchasing power from even lower energy prices.

The trouble is that US economic growth has been near its historical stall speed of around 2.0 percent since the second half of 2010 -- a subdued level of growth that has tended to tip the economy into recession. Each of the last 11 recessions was preceded by a drop in real GDP growth to 2.0 percent.

The continuation of the Federal Reserves ultra-cheap monetary policy has kept things going. But even thats under threat now as the Fed continues to hint at further rate hikes, albeit gradual ones, in response to a low unemployment rate and evidence that inflation is firming.

Related: Here's Why Interest Rates Could Be Locked in Until 2018

At this point, things dont look good for the corporate sector. Wells Fargo analysts warn that if profits remain depressed, the prospects for [capital expenditures] and hiring will come under greater pressure. Business spending on equipment declined at a 2.1 percent annualized pace last quarter, for context.

In light if all that, a turnaround in economic growth depends on consumers opening their wallets. Up to this point, spending has been driven by increases in health-care outlays. Moving ahead, well need to see this broaden to areas such as housing. In the fourth quarter of last year, residential fixed investment grew 10.1 percent, up from 8.2 percent in the prior quarter.

Related: Here's a Sign the Housing Market Is Returning to Normal

All of this is a problem for stocks since, as shown in the chart above, the Samp;P 500 has been tracking the ups and downs of the economy with a slight delay. With stocks currently contending with overhead resistance going back to late 2014, the drag from slower economic growth could result in a retest of the January-February lows in the months to come.

Much also depends on the will they or wont they? decision on rate hikes from the Federal Reserve. 

After the dovish hold announcement by the Fed earlier this month -- which cut in half the number of expected rate hikes this year to just two -- the chatter has turned the other direction. A number of policymakers are talking up the odds of an April rate hike when Wall Street didnt expect action until June at the earliest.

St. Louis Fed President James Bullard, who is one of the more prolific Fed chatterboxes, was in the news again on Sunday night telling Nikkei reporters that April and June are live meetings for the Fed to raise rates again while downplaying the odds of negative interest rates here in the United States -- something thats been deployed, with mixed success, in Japan and the Eurozone.

Janet Yellen's speech to the Economic Club of New York on Tuesday broke this hawkish trend, but if GDP growth doesnt turn around soon, Yellen's dovishness might not be enough. And Bullard might have to eat his words as a new recession would likely see interest rates in the United States push below the zero bound.



When Barack Obama landed in Havana on Sunday, becoming the first sitting US president to visit Cuba in 88 years, he probably didnt have Richard Nixon far from his mind.

Back in 1972, President Nixon remade the geopolitical map with a historic visit to China. And while the relationship between America and China remains fraught and complex, one legacy of the visit was a remarkable boom in economic trade between the two nations. This week, Obama is attempting a similar political gambit in Cuba, and its fair to say a similar blossoming for economic trade is one of the hoped-for results.

Related: Seven Takeaways From Obama's Visit to Cuba

But it will take more than just that to lift Cubas economy -- currently a measly $6,789.80 per person -- out of the hole its in.

For half a century America has kept Cuba under economic embargo as punishment for its communist government. Recently weve begun poking holes in that wall: Congress authorized more trade in agricultural products, pharmaceuticals, and medical devices trade in 2000. The arrival of the Obama administration eased travel restrictions; commercial airlines should begin scheduling flights later this year. And earlier in 2016, restrictions that required Cubas state-run enterprises to buy imports with cash on hand rather than with credit (which effectively shut down trade in things like rice, wheat, and corn) were eased as well. More American cellular and satellite services are now permitted to operate in Cuba by the US government, and bans for lots of other items are being eased on a case-by-case basis.