Sat, Jul 27, 2013 - Page 15 News List

Consumer prices pick up in Japan

FIRST PRICE RISES:Surging energy costs and not a rise in the cost of retail goods have driven the first consumer price rise in a year, analysts said

AFP, TOKYO

Japan’s consumer prices rose for the first time in over a year, data showed yesterday, but analysts warned that surging energy costs led the increase, not a broad uptick in the cost of retail goods.

Pledging to reverse more than a decade of falling prices, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has unleashed an economy-boosting effort dubbed “Abenomics,” which he argues will boost growth, conquer deflation and eventually lead to higher pay for workers.

Early success signs include the cost of eating out rising and price declines for durable goods like cars and washing machines shrinking, Daiwa Institute of Research economist Masahiko Hashimoto said. However, he also cautioned that last month’s figures mostly reflected higher consumer electricity bills rather than the sort of wide-ranging inflation that Tokyo is trying to achieve.

“We can’t necessarily say the increase is due to ‘Abenomics,’” Hashimoto said. “Good inflation happens when prices rise as the economy grows. We may be seeing this starting to blossom but it’s still difficult to judge.”

Excluding volatile prices of fresh food, prices rose 0.4 percent last month, the first increase since a 0.2 percent rise in April last year, said the internal affairs ministry. It was also the biggest single-month gain since late 2008.

Japan’s energy costs surged as it turned to pricey fossil-fuel imports after shutting its nuclear reactors in the wake of the Fukushima crisis two years ago, the worst atomic accident in a generation. A sharply weaker yen, driven down by Tokyo’s economic policies, has pushed up the cost of those dollar-priced shipments as well as other imported goods while wages have barely budged in years.

As part of Abe’s bid to stoke the economy, his hand-picked governor at the Bank of Japan, Haruhiko Kuroda, unleashed a huge monetary easing program in April and set a two-percent inflation target in two years, but many observers are sceptical about the timeline.

Early signs suggest that Abe’s policies may be having an effect. The economy expanded at an annualized rate of 4.1 percent in the first quarter and some Japanese firms have recently announced price increases following the yen’s decline. Others have announced plans to raise employees’ wages.

“The overall improvement could be attributed to the weakening yen as a result of ‘Abenomics,’” Nomura Securities’ chief economist Tomo Kinoshita told Dow Jones Newswires. “In addition, the economic recovery in the last few months has contributed to the rise in inflation.”

Abe, whose Liberal Democratic Party clinched key parliamentary elections on Sunday, is now weighing whether to usher in a sales tax hike approved by the previous government, which would help tackle Japan’s huge national debt.

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