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Japan's household spending jumps but BOJ seen keeping stimulus

[TOKYO] Japan's households spent more than expected in November while consumer inflation ticked up and the jobless rate hit a fresh 24-year low, offering the central bank some hope an economic recovery will drive up inflation to its 2 per cent target.

But the increase in prices was due mostly to a boost from rising fuel costs that is seen fading in 2018, keeping the Bank of Japan under pressure to maintain its huge monetary support even as other central banks seek an end to crisis-mode policies.

Minutes of the BOJ's October rate review showed that while most central bank policymakers saw no need to ramp up stimulus, they agreed on the need to sustain "powerful" monetary easing for the time being.

"There's a chance inflation may gradually accelerate toward the fiscal year beginning in April," as a tightening job market pressures companies to raise wages, said Takeshi Minami, chief economist at Norinchukin Research Institute.

"But inflation remains distant from the BOJ's 2 per cent target, so the central bank will probably maintain its current policy framework." Spending was driven by broadbased gains, with households loosening the purse strings for items such as refrigerators, washing machines, and sporting goods and services such as eating-out and travel.

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Data also showed wage earners' disposable income rose 1.8 per cent in November from a year earlier, suggesting that higher incomes have encouraged consumers to open their wallets.

The nationwide core consumer price index (CPI), which includes oil goods but excludes volatile fresh food prices, rose 0.9 per cent in November from a year earlier, government data showed on Tuesday, marking the 11th straight month of gains.

The pace of price growth was just ahead of October's 0.8 per cent and a median market forecast of the same rate.

Core consumer prices in Tokyo, available a month before the nationwide data, were up 0.8 per cent in December from a year earlier, faster than market forecasts for 0.7 percent growth.

Separate data released on Tuesday showed prospects for a sustained recovery were picking up. The unemployment rate hit a fresh 24-year low of 2.7 per cent in November and job availability rose to a nearly 44-year high.

Household spending rose 1.7 per cent in November from a year earlier, far exceeding forecasts for a 0.5 per cent increase.

The slew of upbeat data may offer relief to BOJ policymakers, who are increasingly worried about the demerits of ultra-easy policy but wary of choking off a budding economic recovery by dialing back stimulus too quickly.

At the October rate review, several BOJ policymakers voiced concern of taking "extreme steps" just to hit their price goal, countering calls by board newcomer Goushi Kataoka that additional easing measures were necessary.

Most members felt that maintaining current policy was sufficient, though conceding it may take some time before firms more actively raise prices and wages, the minutes showed.

Japan's economy grew an annualised 2.5 per cent in July-September to mark a seventh straight quarter of growth thanks to robust exports and capital expenditure.

But the inflation rate remains distant from the BOJ's target, as firms remain wary of scaring away cost-sensitive consumers with price hikes.

The BOJ kept monetary policy steady in October and a subsequent meeting in December, reassuring markets it will lag well behind overseas peers in ending its ultra-loose monetary settings.


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