April 5, 2019 / 12:09 AM / a year ago

RPT-UPDATE 1-Japan Feb household spending, real wages cast doubt on consumption

(Repeats for technical reasons. No change to text.)

* Feb household spending +1.7 yr/yr vs f’cast +2.1 pct yr/yr

* Real wages fall at fastest since June 2015

* Pick-up in consumption crucial for hitting BOJ’s price goal

By Stanley White

TOKYO, April 5 (Reuters) - Japan’s household spending rose less than expected in February and real wages tumbled at the fastest pace in more than three years in an sign the consumer sector faces increasing challenges.

The data will be of some concern for Bank of Japan policymakers worried that heightening overseas economic uncertainties may discourage firms from raising wages and hurt consumption.

The 1.7 percent year-on-year increase in household spending was less than the median estimate for a 2.1 percent annual increase and followed a 2.0 percent annual increase in January.

Taken together with separate wages data, also released on Friday, the numbers suggested household income may not be strong enough to underpin consumption at a time when exports and output are weakening due to the U.S.-Sino trade war.

Household spending rose in February as consumers spent more on autos and mobile phone charges, government data showed on Friday.

Inflation-adjusted real wages in Japan fell 1.1 percent in February from a year ago, the fastest decline since June 2015.

The soft household sector indicators follow signs of weakness in the corporate sector.

Japan’s business mood slumped to a two-year low in the March quarter, a central bank survey showed on April 1, highlighting the damage from the Sino-U.S. trade war.

Factories across Japan depend heavily on selling electronic parts and heavy equipment to manufacturers in China, so Japan is exposed to tit-for-tat tariffs between Washington and Beijing.

The data on consumer spending and wages are likely to raise policymakers concerns about the economy. There are still risks to domestic demand, and expectations may heighten for the Bank of Japan to ease monetary policy further.

The government plans to raise the nationwide sales tax to 10 percent from 8 percent in October to generate extra revenue for rising welfare costs.

Some economists and politicians worry that if this plan is not delayed then consumer spending will weaken after the tax hike.

Reporting by Stanley White; Editing by Sam Holmes

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