Bank of Japan Finds Money Strike Hard to End

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Just like the U.S., Japan is facing what I call a "money strike." 

That is, trillions in buying power (yen in this case) are sitting in corporate vaults, gathering dust, while the real economy languishes.

The U.S. money strike has been going on for years. Japan's has been going on for decades. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Bank of Japan have been trying to break the strike by reducing the value of the yen through both fiscal and monetary policy

Abe's hand-picked Bank of Japan governor, Haruhiko Kuroda, has been creating the equivalent of $70 billion per month, but the response has been underwhelming. Growth slowed between the second quarter and third quarter from 0.9% to 0.5%. 

Meanwhile, Japan's total debt dwarfs that of the U.S., at twice the country's gross domestic product, and so tax breaks intended as stimulus have to be matched with unpopular hikes in sales taxes.

The result of a policy involving loose money and stimulus should be inflation, higher profits from exports and ultimately rising wages. It's named after the prime minister, "Abenomics."

But the money strike remains powerful. A Nikkei survey shows Japanese treasurers plan to invest some of their windfalls and conduct research, repay loans, acquire other companies and give payments to shareholders. Only 7% plan to raise salaries.

Wages go back into the economy and are recycled as they're spent. Capital spending is managed by corporate treasurers, who may just import goods and services rather than help workers.

Thus, economists are calling the result "Scroogenomics," after a recent book by Princeton economist Joel Waldfogel. 

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