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Japan inflation picks up in November but still below target

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Japanese inflation unexpectedly picked up in November but prices are still rising at less than half the rate targeted by central bank. The tightest job market in decades got even tighter.

[TOKYO] Japanese inflation unexpectedly picked up in November but prices are still rising at less than half the rate targeted by central bank. The tightest job market in decades got even tighter.

Core consumer prices, which exclude fresh food, increased 0.9 per cent in November from a year earlier (estimate 0.8 per cent).

The unemployment rate fell to 2.7 per cent (estimate 2.8 per cent), the lowest since 1993. Household spending increased 1.7 per cent from a year ago (estimate 0.5 per cent). The job-to-applicant ratio rose to 1.56 (estimate 1.56), the highest since the mid-1970s.

Nearly five years since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe returned to power promising to end Japan's deflationary malaise, the economy is registering healthy growth but inflation remains well below the Bank of Japan's two per cent target.

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Energy prices have driven most of the gains in inflation as the tightest labour market in decades hasn't fueled a strong rise in wages, meaning households have limited their spending. Given these conditions, the Bank of Japan left the settings on its unprecedented monetary stimulus program unchanged last week in its final meeting of 2017.

Economists views"Conditions are better than they were in deflation, but inflation hasn't even reached one per cent," said Masaki Kuwahara, senior economist at Nomura Securities, noting that prices excluding energy and fresh food rose only 0.3 per cent.

"The BOJ will maintain the status quo because inflation is still far away from two percent."

"On household spending, there were comments saying that August and September had bad numbers due to the amount of rain over the weekends, and that analysis appears to have been right," said Yasutoshi Nagai, chief economist at Daiwa Securities.

"We can expect a continuation of gradual improvement in spending.""I don't know how low unemployment numbers may go, but I believe there's still room to go lower, and it's possible that the labour market will become tighter," Nagai said.

Higher oil prices probably added upward pressure on the core CPI gauge, while declines in mobile phone charges and utility costs pushed the other way, Bloomberg Economics' Yuki Masujima said before the release.

Looking forward, the positive output gap and higher oil prices are stoking inflationary pressures. Even so, inflation expectations remain muted. The job market is likely to remain tight, pressured by the expanding economy, declining working-age population, and mismatches between demand and supply of workers.

Overall, nationwide prices rose 0.6 per cent in November (estimate 0.5 per cent).

Excluding fresh food and energy, prices gained 0.3 per cent (estimate 0.3 per cent).

Prices excluding fresh food in Tokyo rose 0.8 per cent in December (estimate 0.7 per cent).

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