News & Updates

FY2018 JETRO Survey on Business Conditions for Japanese Companies in the U.S. (37th annual survey)

Mar 18, 2019

Over 70% of Respondents Expected Positive Operating Profits for Seven Consecutive Years (the longest period in our records)
Japanese Companies in the US Maintaining “Local Production for the Local Market” Trend

JETRO has conducted a survey on the state of Japanese manufacturers (producers and sellers) operating in the U.S. The results are summarized below, with corresponding page numbers from the attachment included.

Method and dates Distribution of a questionnaire from November 9, 2018 to December 7, 2018
Scope Japanese manufacturers operating in the U.S.
730 responses received from 1,289 surveys sent (response rate of 56.6%)
  1. Sales performance
  2. Future business direction
  3. Supply chain
  4. Challenges in management
  5. Changing business environment

Summary – Business Conditions for Japanese Companies in the U.S.

  1. Corporate performance
    For seven years in a row now, over 70 percent (74.5%) of respondents expected an operating profit, making for the longest such streak in survey history. The diffusion index (DI) value, an indicator of business confidence, for 2018 was up 9.3 points from 2017 to reach 17.2, and the 2019 outlook also expects the value to rise up to 32.0, with many companies expecting to see an improvement in their performance.
  2. Business direction going forward
    Of the respondents, 40.9% said they had “increased” their number of local employees in the last 12 months, marking a seventh consecutive year of exceeding 40%, and 44% also expect an increase in the future. The respondents that eye business expansion in the next year or two accounted for 54.2% of companies, coming in at over 50% for a seventh straight year.
  3. Supply chains (raw material procurement, product production frameworks and sales destinations)
    Changes in the trade environment have prompted some respondents to reevaluate procurement sources, but their trend of local production for the local market, mostly for the NAFTA region, remains unchanged.
  4. Challenges in management
    As with the preceding year, “recruiting workers” (69.0%), “labor costs” (65.6%) and “retention of workers” (46.3%) were the top management challenges (factors for increased cost), ranking higher than “effects of trade-restrictive measures” (44.7%). No signs of improvement in the labor shortage were found.
  5. Countermeasures to the changing business environment
    Looking at policy, respondents showed most interest in “trade” (81.3%); the top answers were “additional custom duties,” “United States.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA)” and “Japan-US trade talks.”

Results – 2018 Business Conditions for Japanese Companies in the U.S.

(1) Operating profit forecast: 74.5% of respondents expect a profit in 2018, marking the seventh year in a row over 70% and the longest streak in survey history

  • Of respondents, 74.5% expect to generate an operating profit for 2018, up slightly from the preceding year (74.4%) and showing continued strength. Companies anticipating a profit accounted for more than 70% of the total for seven consecutive years since 2012. The ratio of profitable companies was high among ceramics/stone and clay products (100%), transportation equipment (motor vehicles and motorcycles) (91.7%), and pharmaceuticals (87.5%), while the ratio for transportation equipment and parts (motor vehicles and motorcycles) declined for a second year (2016: 82.5%, 2017: 70.4%, 2018: 64.8%), and this was a factor for the 3.1-point decline in the rate for the Midwest region. By business type, the rate for those conducting sales alone (79.6%) exceeded that for those engaged in both manufacturing and sales (73.6%) by 6.0 points (p. 4).
  • The DI value indicating business confidence (the difference between the rates of increased and decreased business sentiment) came to 17.2, up 9.3 points from 2017. Respondents expecting an “increase” in operating profit for 2018 accounted for 41.5%, up 3.7 points from 2017, while 24.3% said they expect a “decrease,” down 5.6 points. For 2019, nearly half (45.1%) anticipate an “increase” in operating profit, and the DI value rose significantly to 32.0, with many companies expecting stronger earnings (p. 5).
  • By industry (2018), general/manufacturing equipment (36.8) and fabricated metal products (33.4) showed strong numbers, while transportation equipment and parts had negative DI values, with motor vehicles/motorcycles posting minus 9.9 points and railroad vehicles/ships/aircraft/industrial trucks logging minus 9.1 points (p. 6).

(2) Business direction going forward: 54.2% of respondents eye expansion; seventh straight year of over 40% of companies increasing local employees

  • Of respondents, 54.2% said they had plans for expansion in the next year or two, down 2.9 points from the 2017 survey, nonetheless still marking a seventh straight year of more than half eyeing expansion. Sales (63.9%) and manufacturing (high-value-added products) (45.1%) remained popular areas of expansion, as in the 2017 survey. By industry, expansion plans were most significant among chemical and petroleum products (78.1%), food/agricultural products (72.2%) and the like. Just 4.2% said they will scale down their business (p. 7-8).
  • Respondents which spent more on capital investment in 2018 than in 2017 came to 43.7%, up 3.1 points from the previous survey. “No change” was the most common response at 47.6% (down 1.8 points), and those that spent less than in the previous year came to just 8.7% (down 1.0 point). The main purposes of capital investment were “maintenance and/or repair of existing equipment” (54.0%), “strengthening productivity and/or sales” (41.9%), and “launch of new businesses, production of new products, or improvement of existing products” (31.5%) (p. 9-10).
  • In the field of ICT, smartphones and tablets were the most popular technology, with 71.7% of companies having introduced the devices. Cloud services came second with 50.9%. Although fewer than 10% said they are already using IoT/M2M solutions and artificial intelligence (AI), over 30% said they are considering making use of them in the future, thus this field is expected to grow going forward (p. 11).
  • A total of 40.9% of the respondents “increased” local employees in the last 12 months, marking a seventh consecutive year of surpassing 40%, with 44.0% planning to “increase” in the near future. The most common response with respect to the number of Japanese expats was “no change” for both the past year and for the foreseeable future (p. 12-13).

(3) Supply chains (procurement, production and sales): “Local production for the local market” trend with a focus on the NAFTA region

  • Among the companies that manufacture in the US, the procurement rate of materials and parts from within the US was 58.1% (17.9% for Japanese companies in the US, 38.9% for US companies and 1.3% for other foreign-affiliated companies), followed by procurement from Japan (25.6%). In terms of future plans, as with the last survey, some plan to buy more from Japanese companies in the US (107 companies) and Japanese companies in the US (52 companies). Companies looking to buy less from China increased significantly, from 10.6% in the last survey to 37.5% this time, while respondents looking to procure more from the ASEAN region were up 8.4 points (p. 14). Meanwhile, among the companies that only sell products and services in the US (without local manufacturing), the procurement rate from within the US declined 4.0 points from last time to 17.2%, while the rate of procurement from Japan increased 2.5 points to 55.7%. Plans to buy more from Japan (23 companies) and from the ASEAN region (22 companies) were notable (p. 15).
  • US domestic production for the local market was down 1.8 points from the previous survey (at 74.5%), while production in Japan rose 1.1 points (13.5%). Asked about increasing production for supply in the US market, 113 companies said they will produce more locally in the US, while 28 said they plan increases in Mexico (roughly unchanged from the 29 companies in the last survey) (p. 16).
  • The respondents with manufacturing functions in the US sold 79.7% of their products within the US, and the number went up to 86.9% when Mexico and Canada were added (the NAFTA market); 5.2% of sales were made in Japan. Plans to increase sales going forward were focused on the US (130 companies, 35.9%) and Mexico (54 companies, 29.2%), although the companies looking to sell more in Mexico were down 9.1 points from the previous survey (38.3%) (p. 17). Japanese sellers active in the US sold 75.4% of their products and services in the US, 84.2% in the NAFTA markets (including the US), and 5.8% in Japan. (p. 18).

(4) Factors for increased cost and factors hindering the increase of sales: Recruiting, rising labor costs, intensifying price competition continue to present challenges

  • As in the last survey, “recruiting workers” (69.0%), “labor costs” (65.6%) and “retention of workers” (46.3%) were the top factors pushing up costs, followed by “increase of tariff rates” as a result of trade restrictive measures (44.7%). In terms of regulations, “environmental regulations” and “visas applications for Japanese expats” were among the top issues, as in the previous survey (p. 19-20).
  • Regarding factors keeping down sales, “severity in price competition” (76.0%) and “popular products from competitors” (55.9%) remained at the top as in previous years. (p. 21).

(5) Effects of NAFTA renegotiation and countermeasures: A majority see “no impacts” and plan to make no changes

  • Asked about general effects of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), a treaty replacing NAFTA, a majority (51.4%) said it will have “no impact,” while 35.0% said they are “not sure.” While just 6.3% said they see a “negative impact,” the ratio was higher (14.8%) in the transportation equipment and parts industry (motor vehicles and motorcycles) than elsewhere. The types of negative impact anticipated by companies in that industry are: “meeting the labor value content rule” (21.3%), “requirement to purchase 70% North American steel and aluminum” (18.4%), and “review of product specific rules” (17.9%) (p. 22).
  • Asked about measures to cope with USMCA, most of the respondents were yet to take any countermeasures, answering that they either plan to “make no changes” (56.4%) or are “not sure” (28.4%). Among those considering specific measures, “raising of sale prices” (11.0%) was the most common answer, followed by “change of procurement sources” (3.7%) and “change of production bases” (2.5%). Within the transportation equipment and parts industry (motor vehicles and motorcycles), make no changes (42.3%) was the top answer (p. 23).

(6) Interest in the Trump administration’s policies: Respondents showed most interest in “trade” (81.3%); among trade policies, “additional tariffs,” “USMCA” and “Japan-US trade talks” were the top answers

  • Japanese companies were most interested in “trade” (81.3%) as a Trump administration policy that they think will have an impact on business management, an increase from the last survey (76.5%). Among trade policies, “additional custom duties” was the top answer (73.9%), followed by “USMCA” and “Japan-US trade talks.” In “diplomacy” (66.3%), interest in US-Japan and US-China policies grew drastically over the previous year (2017: 57.9%, 2018: 74.3% and 2017: 28.7%, 2018: 68.3%, respectively). Meanwhile, interest in “social welfare” declined sharply from the previous survey (2017: 62.5%, 2018: 41.8%) (p. 24-25).
  • More than 40% of respondents expect “positive effects” from the tax reform act as a whole; by tax category, 60.8% saw a positive effect from the decline in the federal corporate tax rate. Although a majority (55.4%) expect no effects from the base erosion and anti-abuse tax (BEAT), which was feared to have effects on Japanese companies in the US, 40% said they are not sure of its implications (p. 26).

(7) Industries and areas with growth potential: Hopes highest for ICT; about 80% of respondents keep a close eye on the South

  • Asked about “areas with growth potential for the next two to three years,” information and communication technology (ICT) was the most popular answer, followed by healthcare and the environment. While ICT jumped 20 points from the last survey in 2016, the top 10 ranking did not change (p. 27).
  • As “regions with expansion potential over the next 2-3 years,” nearly 80% of the respondents are keeping a close eye on the South, as 77.7% did in the previous survey. By state, Texas and California took the top spots for a fourth straight survey. Alabama, which ranked eighth last time, came in third place, while North Carolina and Washington rose from twelfth and fourteenth place, respectively, to tie at sixth place (p. 28).
The percentages in the report are rounded to the first decimal, and therefore may not add up to100.
The rate are calculated based on the number of responses to the corresponding question.

Takashi Nakamizo, Mao Noguchi, and Mari Fujii
Americas Division, Overseas Department, JETRO Tel: +81-3-3582-5545 Fax: +81-3-3587-2485