(Adds details, quotes on boost of steel output from economic
* Crude steel output boosted by infrastructure spending,
* Weaker yen boosts export demand for Japanese steel
* Output figures in line with METI forecast for 5-year high
By Yuka Obayashi
TOKYO, Oct 18 Japan's crude steel production for
the April-September period hit a five-year high, buoyed by solid
construction demand from higher government infrastructure
spending and a rush to build homes ahead of a sales tax hike
Japan's steel output is a proxy for the health of the
world's third-largest economy, and earlier this month its trade
and industry ministry forecast that the country's crude steel
output would hit a five-year high this calendar year.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose economic policies have
begun to stir the Japanese economy out of years of lethargy,
decided this month that the government will raise the sales tax
rate in April to 8 percent from the current 5 percent, in a bid
to rein in Japan's public debt.
Crude steel output for the first six months of Japan's
fiscal year through September rose 1.9 percent from a year
earlier to 55.79 million tonnes, the highest since 61.51 million
tonnes was produced in the same period in 2008, the Japan Iron
and Steel Federation said.
"Demand for steel used for infrastructure such as sheet-pile
is rising as rebuilding works of the north-eastern area hit by
the March 2011 earthquakes are going into full swing," a
researcher at the industry body said.
"Also, demand for H-beam and other construction steel are
strong due to rising number of projects to build houses and
condominiums ahead of the tax hike," he said.
Export demand also boosted the figures as Japanese steel
regained competitiveness due to a weaker yen. Crude steel output
rose 5.5 percent in September from a year ago, the biggest
year-on-year increase since a 7.6 percent jump in April 2012.
Crude steel output for the July-September quarter climbed
1.7 percent from the same period last year to 27.72 million
tonnes, also the highest in 5 years.
The output figures were not seasonally-adjusted.
The trade and industry ministry said on Oct. 1 that crude
steel output for calendar 2013 is set to rise 3.1 percent to
110.56 million tonnes, which would be the highest since 2008,
when Japan produced 118.74 million tonnes of crude steel.
(Editing by Aaron Sheldrick and Tom Hogue)