Japanese housewives have stashed away the most “secret” savings in at least eight years, underscoring the challenge for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to encourage consumers to spend.
The value of the cash and investments that housewives hold without telling their husbands rose 8.2 percent from a year ago to ￥4.16 million (US$41,500), a report released yesterday by the Sompo Japan DIY Life Insurance Co showed. The total was the highest on record in data back to 2005.
Japan’s housewives tend to control budgets — often keeping their husbands in the dark — making their saving and spending habits one indicator of the health of consumers in the world’s third-biggest economy.
While Abe’s strategy of monetary and fiscal stimulus and deregulation has helped stoke corporate profits, wages have stayed flat and companies have accumulated record cash rather than boosted investment.
“Japanese housewives continue to hold financial power in households,” said Koya Miyamae, an economist at SMBC Nikko Securities Inc in Tokyo, whose wife manages his family budget.
The rise “could be because housewives are still concerned about the outlook of Japan’s economy,” he said.
The survey showed the average summer bonus for Japanese salarymen was still 10 percent below the 2007 peak even after an increase this year, helping cement “a strong intention” to save, said Makiko Uematsu, group leader of public relations department at Sompo Japan DIY Life Insurance Co.
The bump in precautionary savings coincides with signs that wives are trimming their spouse’s monthly allowances. The average monthly spending money Japanese husbands received fell to the lowest since 1982 this year, a report showed earlier this week.
Even so, consumer spending has strengthened this year as Abe seeks to revive the nation’s economy after two decades of stagnation. Retail sales gained 1.5 percent in May from the previous month, a government report showed last week.
Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings, Japan’s biggest department store operator, cited higher sales of women’s handbags, clothing and shoes for driving a 5.7 percent increase in sales from a year earlier last month, a report on Monday showed.
Sales of women’s clothing accounted for 23 percent of department sales nationwide in May, according to Japan Department Stores Association. Men’s clothing accounted for 7.5 percent.
The survey by Sompo Japan showed that 89.8 percent of housewives said they were not feeling any positive effect from the economic measures Abe has taken since he took office in December. The prime minister is running a campaign for a July 21 upper house election, with opposition parties saying his policies have failed to raise incomes.
Salaries were unchanged in May from a year earlier, the Japanese labor ministry said this week.
Sompo Japan surveyed 500 housewives from June 7 to 12.