Japan inflation hits five-year high


Sat, Sep 28, 2013 - Page 15

Japanese inflation hit a five-year high last month, although yesterday’s data showed the rise was driven by soaring energy costs, indicating the government’s plan to boost consumer demand was still to gain traction.

The consumer price index, which measures a basket of everyday goods, but excludes the volatile cost of fresh food, was up 0.8 percent from a year earlier, according to the internal affairs ministry.

That was the biggest monthly rise since November 2008, when it logged a 1 percent increase, and the third consecutive monthly jump.

The new figures are likely to be embraced by Abe’s government. The conservative leader has pledged to drag Japan out of its 15 year deflationary funk with a policy blitz dubbed “Abenomics,” lifting prices and wages to get the economy moving again.

However, the upbeat headline for yesterday’s data was tempered by the fact that prices were being driven up by higher fuel bills, not surging demand for everyday goods like vacuum cleaners and clothes, which power the economy as a whole.

Energy imports soared in the wake of the disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in 2011, forcing the shutdown of Japan’s nuclear reactors.

Some firms are raising prices — including drinks maker Yakult, which is ushering in its first hikes in over 20 years — but that is largely due to a weak yen, driving up material costs.

“If gains in prices were driven by increased domestic demand, someone paying higher prices means someone else is earning more locally, creating a virtuous cycle in the economy, but these activities aren’t widely seen,” Marubeni Research Institute director Tetsuhide Mikamo said.

“Abenomics is only half done,” he added.

Early signs suggest Abe’s growth blueprint is having a positive effect, with the world’s third-largest economy expanding again in the June quarter as cautious firms hiked their capital spending.

Still, it has yet to translate into widespread wage rises, which are essential for convincing people to start spending more.

“Abenomics is widely heralded as a boon to Japanese society, but the benefits are not being felt evenly,” London-based Capital Economics said. “The sluggishness of wages combined with rising inflation has diminished households’ purchasing power.”

The inflation figures come ahead of the release of other key figures next week, including factory output and household spending data, while the Bank of Japan is set to release its closely watched Tankan business confidence survey.