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UPDATE 1-Japan weak indicator indexes cast doubt on econ

 TOKYO, May 9 (Reuters) - Japan's diffusion indexes of
leading and coincident economic indicators stayed below the key
50 mark for the third straight month or more in March,
government data showed on Wednesday, raising concerns the
economy may be hitting a soft patch.
 The coincident index, which indicates current economic
conditions, stood at a preliminary 22.2 in March, down from 30.0
in February and below 50 for the third straight month.
 A reading above 50 suggests the economy is expanding, while a reading below 50 suggests a contraction.
 "Generally speaking, we can say that the economy may have
reached a turning point, with the coincident index below 50.0 for the third straight month," said Itsushi Tachi, director of
business statistics at the Cabinet Office.
 The leading index, compiled using data such as the number of
new job offers, consumer sentiment and Tokyo share prices, rose
to a preliminary 40.0 in March from 27.3 in February.
 But it remained below the midway 50 mark for the fifth
straight month.
 The lagging index, comprising indicators seen as moving
behind the economic cycle, stood at 75.0 in March, compared with
20.0 in February.
 The official said the figures may warrant caution about the
possibility of the economy hitting a soft patch, though he added
that it was still too early to tell, as many components of the
coincident index have not shown signs of peaking over the past
six months.
 "We need to wait to see trends in coming months, as we expect output data to show improvements in April and May," he said,
adding that the economy's expansion is continuing.
 The top government spokesman reiterated that the nation's
economy is performing solidly. "We're not at a stage where we
need to examine whether the economy is entering a lull," Chief
Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki told a news conference later
in the day.
 The government stuck to its assessment on current economic
conditions after the data, saying the trend is weakening.
 The wording was revised down last month from January's
assessment, which was that current conditions were improving.
 Japan is experiencing its longest period of growth in the
postwar era, albeit at a slower pace than in previous booms,
thanks to firm exports and corporate capital investment.
 The Cabinet Office revises the indexes several times before
issuing final figures. Details were as follows:
 _________________________________________________
                     MAR      FEB      JAN
 -------------------------------------------------
 Leading Index       40.0     27.3     40.9
 Coincident Index    22.2     30.0     30.0
 Lagging Index       75.0     20.0     70.0
 _________________________________________________
 To view the full tables, go to the official home page of the
Cabinet Officehere.



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