Japan targets the stock market

The Nikkei at 13,000 is the new target.

Japan's stock market is on a tear today, apparently due to yet another unconventional economic move from its populist right-wing government. After attacking its central bank's independence, "nationalising" industrial stock and announcing a £70bn stimulus package for the stagnant economy, the country's economic ministry made another shock move over the weekend.

Akira Amrai, Japan's economic minister, said in a speech that:

It will be important to show our mettle and see the Nikkei reach the 13,000 mark by the end of the fiscal year (March 31)… We want to continue taking (new) steps to help stock prices rise.

Before and after… the Nikkei jumped 200 points after Amrai's comments.

The Nikkei at 13,000 would require 17 per cent growth in the next two months, which is ambitious. But now that we've had a change to see how the market reacts to such the move, it's looking very possible indeed.

The government announcing it has a stock market target is largely a self-fulfilling prophecy: stock markets tend to price in future gains, and a government announcing that a certain level is now a matter of policy is as near certain as gains can get. Even if it undershoots, it's still clear that the statement has helped Japanese companies. The biggest direct concern is that such a statement might lead to a dangerous asset bubble, but a Nikkei of 13,000 would, if anything, remain underpriced. So long as the government doesn't get carried away with its success, the move seems to be a smart one.

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.