The entire world is in a state of mourning today as details regarding the horrific damage caused by the massive tsunami in Japan continue to trickle in. The magnitude 8.9 earthquake that caused the tsunami was the largest earthquake that Japan has ever experienced in modern times. Waves as high as 30 feet swept over northern Japan. The tsunami waters reached as far as 6 miles inland, and authorities have already recovered hundreds of dead bodies. Those of us that have seen footage of this disaster on television will never forget it. But this nightmare is not over yet. There have been dozens of aftershocks, and many of them have been quite large. In fact, there have been 19 earthquakes of at least magnitude 6.0 in the area over the last 24 hours. So what is this disaster going to do to the third largest economy in the world? Japan already had a national debt that was well over 200% of GDP. Could this be the "tipping point" that pushes the Japanese economy over the edge and into oblivion?
It is hard to assess the full scope of the damage to Japan at this point, but virtually everyone agrees that much of northern Japan is a complete and total disaster area at this point. Many towns have essentially been destroyed. Some are estimating that the economic damage from this disaster will be in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Others believe that the final total will be in the trillions of dollars.
Fortunately, major cities such as Tokyo came through this event relatively unscathed and most of the major manufacturing facilities are not in the areas that were most directly affected by the earthquake and the tsunami.
But let there be no doubt, this was a nation-changing event. Japan will never quite be the same again.
Also, it isn't just Japan that will be affected by this. The truth is that economic ripples from this event will be felt all over the world.
An economist from High Frequency Economics, Carl Weinberg, told AFP the following about the economic consequences of this disaster....
There is no way to assess even the direct damage to Japan's economy or to the global economy. This is a sad day for Japan, and economic aftershocks could affect the whole world's economy.
It is literally going to take months to figure out exactly how much damage has been done. Let us just hope that we don't see any more major earthquakes in the area.
The Japanese are a very resilient people and the Bank of Japan is already vowing that it will be doing whatever is necessary to ensure the stability of the financial markets. The Bank of Japan has announced that it is going to provide as much liquidity as necessary to keep the Japanese economy functioning normally.
But the truth is that the Bank of Japan has already been printing money like crazy....
(Click to enlarge)
Is a tsunami of new yen really going to solve the economic damage that has been done by the earthquake and the tsunami?
Of course not.
The truth is that the economy of Japan was already deeply struggling before this disaster.
The national debt of Japan is now well over 200% of GDP and there seems to be no doubt that they will need to borrow massive amounts of money to deal with the aftermath of this crisis. Up until now the Japanese government has been able to borrow money at ultra-low interest rates of around 1.30 percent for 10-year bonds, drawing on a huge pool of savings from its own citizens.
But in light of what has just happened, will the citizens of Japan still have enough resources to continue to fund the rampant spending of the Japanese government? At this point, it is estimated that this gigantic mountain of debt breaks down to 7.5 million yen for every single citizen of Japan.
Politicians in Japan have been pledging for years to do something about all of this debt, but nobody has been able to make much progress.
Even before this disaster, the major credit rating agencies were warning that they may have to downgrade Japanese government debt. The earthquake and the tsunami are certainly not going to make the Japanese even more credit-worthy.
Hideo Kumano, the chief economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute, has said that a "tipping point" will come when world financial markets finally recognize that the government of Japan simply cannot afford to service its debt any longer....
It's hard to predict when the bond market might collapse, but it would happen when the market judges that Japan's ability to finance its debt is not sustainable anymore.
Is the massive tsunami that just hit Japan such a tipping point?
Other countries such as Greece and Ireland would have already collapsed if it had not been for the massive international bailouts that they received. So who is going to bail Japan out?
This could potentially be one of the greatest economic disasters that the world has seen since World War II.
With the world already on the verge of a major financial collapse, this is the last thing that world financial markets needed. In fact, much of the rest of the world had been hoping that an influx of capital from Japan would help to stabilize things.
For example, Japanese insurance companies had recently announced that they were planning on buying up lots of European sovereign debt, but now obviously those plans are on hold. As a result of this disaster, Japanese insurance companies will be forced to sell off assets like crazy in order to pay settlements. But as Zero Hedge is correctly pointing out, without Japanese financial institutions stepping in to soak up Eurozone bonds this is going to make the European sovereign debt crisis even worse.
But right now the focus in on the devastation in Japan. At the moment it is unclear how much of the economic infrastructure of Japan has survived.
For example, as USA Today is reporting, some factories cannot even be reached by phone at this point....
Toyota's (NYSE:TM) phone calls to its plants in affected areas were not being answered, said Shiori Hashimoto, a spokeswoman in Tokyo. The Toyota City-based carmaker began production at a new plant in Miyagi this year that makes Yaris compact cars and has capacity to make 120,000 vehicles a year.
What is clear is that the cost of recovering and rebuilding after this disaster is going to put extraordinary financial stress on the Japanese government.
Julian Jessop of Capital Economics certainly does not sound optimistic about what this is going to mean for the Japanese economy....
Japan's economic recovery has lost momentum and a large part of the reconstruction costs will add to the government's significant debt burden.
Hopefully the full extent of the damage is not as bad as many are now fearing. But the truth is that this is a huge, huge event for a world economy that was already on the verge of collapse. May our thoughts and our prayers be with the Japanese people at this time.
This is truly one of the biggest disasters that any of us have ever seen, and Japan will never be the same again.