Japan March household spending slumps, suggests economy slowed in first quarter

FILE PHOTO: Various brands of beer are seen for sale in a supermarket in Osaka, western Japan October 26, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas White/File Photo

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese household spending fell 0.7 percent in March from a year earlier to mark the second straight month of declines, underscoring the view the economy suffered a temporary lull in the first quarter as bad weather hurt consumption.

Wage earners’ income slid 3.8 percent in March, posting the third straight month of falls, in a sign firms remain wary of raising pay despite reaping record profits from robust global demand.

Weak consumption would be a headache for the Bank of Japan, which hopes that companies will pass on rising costs to households and help drive up inflation to its 2 percent target.

Household spending slid 0.1 percent in March from February, government data showed on Tuesday.

“There are some weaknesses in the pickup in household spending,” a government official who briefed reporters said.

Japan’s economy, the world’s third largest, has grown for eight straight quarters through end-2017, the longest continuous expansion since the 1980s.

But core consumer inflation stood at 0.9 percent in March from a year earlier, well below the BOJ’s target, as slow wage growth keeps consumers from increasing their spending.

Economic growth is expected to show annualized rate of 0.5 percent in the first quarter, but is seen likely to regain some momentum over the course of the year, a Reuters poll showed.

Reporting by Leika Kihara; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim and Eric Meijer