Japan’s economy grew at a breakneck pace in the first three months of the year as consumers went on a massive shopping spree to avoid a planned sales tax increase.
Gross domestic product (GDP) grew at an annual rate of 5.9% in the first quarter, Japan’s Cabinet Office said Thursday. The expansion was much quicker than the 4% figure expected by economists, and a major rebound from disappointing growth in the fourth quarter of 2013.
On a quarterly basis, Japan’s GDP increased by 1.5%. Exports and business investment were particularly strong, and both measures topped analyst expectations.
Private consumption also provided a boost, driven by consumers that rushed to make big purchases before the tax hike took effect.
Japan’s consumption tax was increased to 8% in April in a bid to improve the country’s fiscal position. If needed, the government has the option to implement an additional increase to 10% by 2015.
Consumers responded in a big way — and all the extra shopping contributed to the strong first quarter numbers. But now that the sugar rush is over, economists expect Japan’s growth rate to return to earth in the second quarter.
“Looking ahead, the economy will certainly contract in the second quarter of the year, as consumers rein in spending after the tax hike, and residential investment is set to plunge,” said Marcel Thieliant of Capital Economics.