Retail sales surge
Retail sales grew at the fastest pace in more than a year as a rebound in consumer spending propped up an economy reeling from last year’s March earthquake and a deepening export slump. Retail sales rose 2.5 percent last month from a year earlier, the trade ministry said in Tokyo yesterday, the biggest advance since August 2010 and exceeding the 2.1 percent median forecast of 17 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News. From a month earlier, sales climbed 0.3 percent. Consumers are picking up some of the slack after export shipments slid the most since May last year because of a stronger yen and faltering global demand. Bank of Japan Governor Masaaki Shirakawa said this week consumer spending has been “unexpectedly robust,” citing the potential benefits of a strong yen, which makes imports cheaper, and increased demand in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami.
Honda’s production plunges
Japan’s Honda Motor Co, the country’s third-biggest automaker, suffered a 20 percent plunge in its global production last year, it said yesterday. Honda made 2.91 million vehicles not including motorbikes last year, it said, down 20.2 percent as auto manufacturers struggled with natural disasters, a rising yen and the European economic slowdown. The figures came as Japan’s major car firms announced their annual production for last year. Toyota Motor Corp, which had already confirmed earlier this week it had lost its position as the world’s biggest automaker, said it produced 7.86 million vehicles, down 8.2 percent. Nissan Motor Co, 44.3 percent owned by Renault SA, was the only leading Japanese automaker to increase annual global production. It produced 4.63 million units, up 14.3 percent from a year ago, while global sales hit a record 4.67 million vehicles, it said.
Food-price index falls
The food-price index fell for a fourth straight week as the cost of onions, vegetables and wheat declined. A gauge measuring wholesale prices of agricultural products dropped 1.03 percent in the week ended on Jan. 14 from a year earlier, the commerce ministry said in a statement in New Delhi yesterday. It declined 0.4 percent the previous week. India cut the amount lenders must set aside as reserves for the first time since 2009 on Tuesday, joining nations from Brazil to Thailand in easing monetary policy as Europe’s debt crisis hurts global growth. Headline inflation moderated to a two-year low of 7.47 percent last month, increasing the central bank’s scope to shield economic expansion. The price of vegetables tumbled 47 percent in the week ended on Jan. 14 from a year earlier, yesterday’s report showed.
Jetstar Japan eyes future
Jetstar Japan Co, the budget carrier set to begin flights this year, said it might grow to 100 planes by the end of the decade, helped by fares about 50 percent cheaper than full-service airlines. “I’m quite bullish that this is going to be possible,” CEO Miyuki Suzuki said in an interview in Tokyo on Thursday. The carrier, part-owned by Japan Airlines Co and Qantas Airways Ltd, is ahead of schedule in its startup plans, she said, without giving a date for the first flight. Jetstar, one of three Japanese budget carriers preparing to start services this year, expects lower fares will lure passengers and spur new travel demand, Suzuki said. Discount carriers will about triple their share of Japanese air travel to 35 percent by 2020, she said.
HSBC eyes Sri Lanka debt
HSBC Holdings PLC, Europe’s biggest bank, plans to expand sales of debt issued by Sri Lankan companies to investors abroad as the island’s resurgent economy boosts demand for financing. The lender is targeting the country’s financial firms and the tourism industry with overseas US dollar bonds and syndications, said Nick Nicolaou, who heads HSBC’s Sri Lanka operations. The London-based bank is focusing on funds of three-year tenure or more, Nicolaou said, without naming specific companies. Sri Lanka’s economy grew 8.4 percent in the quarter to Sept. 30 as the end of a 26-year civil war in 2009 spurs infrastructure spending and encourages tourism and consumer demand. Sri Lanka’s US$1 billion sale of 10-year US dollar bonds in July, co-arranged by HSBC, attracted bids for more than seven times the amount on offer.
RBS chief to get US$1.51m
Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC (RBS) chief executive Stephen Hester will receive a bonus of ￡963,000 (US$1.51 million) for last year, less than half of his 2010 payout. The all-stock award of 3.6 million shares, whose value was based on the closing price on Wednesday, will be deferred until 2014, Edinburgh-based RBS said in a statement on Thursday. Hester, 51, took a ￡2 million bonus for 2010, his first since replacing Fred Goodwin in 2008. He made ￡1.22 million in salary last year. British Prime Minister David Cameron has urged executives at state-controlled RBS to show restraint on pay at a time when real household incomes are falling and public spending is being squeezed. Cameron this month said Hester’ bonus should not exceed ￡1 million this year.
Twitter to limit tweets
Twitter announced on Thursday that it would begin restricting Tweets in certain countries, marking a policy shift for the social media platform that helped propel the popular uprisings recently sweeping across the Middle East. “As we continue to grow internationally, we will enter countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression,” Twitter wrote in a blog post. Twitter gave as examples of restrictions it might cooperate with “certain types of content, such as France or Germany, which ban pro-Nazi content.” Twitter’s decision to begin censoring content represents a significant departure from its policy just one year ago, when anti-government protesters in Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab countries coordinated mass demonstrations through the social network and, in the process, thrust Twitter’s disruptive potential into the global spotlight.
Tax revenue jumped 7.9%
German tax revenue last year surged more than Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government estimated, led by intake at federal level, the Ministry of Finance said. Revenue rose 7.9 percent to 525.4 billion euros (US$691 billion), beating a growth target of 7.5 percent, the ministry said yesterday in its monthly report. Tax income increased 4.1 percent last month from a year earlier to 70.8 billion euros, a slower pace than in November amid more subdued growth, it said. Economic data “point to an economic weakening” in the final quarter of last year and the first three months of this year, the ministry said. Business sentiment suggests “that the pace of economic expansion in Germany will increase again in the course of this year, supported by accelerating global growth,” it said.