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Japan consumer prices, household spending raise doubts about inflation
December 1, 2017 / 12:47 AM / 13 days ago

Japan consumer prices, household spending raise doubts about inflation

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s core consumer prices rose in October from a year earlier, marking the 10th straight month of gains, but a narrower measure that excludes energy showed inflation has not accelerated for three consecutive months.

FILE PHOTO - A woman with a baby buggy looks at items outside a discount store at a shopping district in Tokyo, Japan, February 25, 2016. REUTERS/Yuya Shino

Household spending was unchanged in October from a year ago as increased spending on mobile phone plans offset a decline in spending on travel.

Separate data released on Friday showed capital expenditure rose strongly in the third quarter, suggesting an upward revision to gross domestic product growth.

While buoyant capital expenditure numbers align with policymakers’ views that economic momentum is firm, the consumer price and household spending numbers reinforce wider expectations that the Bank of Japan will struggle to meet its 2 percent inflation target.

“Consumer prices are not accelerating because companies aren’t changing their behavior,” said Hiromu Uezato, economist at Mizuho Research Institute.

“Companies are still reluctant to raise prices. The household spending data also shows the trend isn’t that strong.”

The nationwide core consumer price index, which includes oil products but excludes volatile fresh food prices, rose 0.8 percent in October from a year ago, due to gains in gasoline, kerosene, and healthcare costs, data showed on Friday.

That matched the median forecast in a Reuters poll and followed a 0.7 percent increase in the year to September.

Stripping away the effect of fresh food and energy, so-called core-core consumer prices rose 0.2 in October from a year ago, matching the respective increases clocked in September and August and raising concerns that inflationary pressures are not increasing.

Household spending was unchanged in October from a year earlier in price-adjusted real terms, compared with economists’ median estimate of a 0.4 percent annual decline.

Compared with the previous month, household spending fell 2.0 percent, more than the median estimate for a 1.4 percent decline.

Japan’s jobless rate held steady at 2.8 percent in October and the availability of jobs reached the highest in almost 44 years, separate data showed.

Capital expenditure rose 4.2 percent in July-September, faster than a 1.5 percent gain in April-June, another report from the finance ministry showed.

The capex data, which the government uses to calculate revised gross domestic product, suggests growth will be revised up. The government is scheduled to release revised GDP for the September quarter on Dec. 8.

“Corporate profits and sales have been strong but capital spending had been lagging,” said Hiroaki Muto, economist at Tokyo Tokai Research Center.

Muto expects the capital spending component of the GDP growth to be revised up to just below 1 percent, from the preliminary 0.2 percent increase, which would push the headline GDP figure up to around 2.0 percent from the initial 1.4 percent.

“However, companies are still trying to limit fixed costs. Some are investing in AI and robots in response to labor shortages but their overall stance is one of restraint,” he said, striking a cautious note on the outlook.

Reporting by Stanley White and Chris Gallagher; Editing by Sam Holmes

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