Tokyo consumer prices in December post steepest slump in decade

Job market and retail sales see moderate growth as Covid-19 pandemic continues to be a drag on sentiment

epa08902253 Pedestrians walk through a Ikebukuro street in Tokyo, Japan, 24 December 2020 after Tokyo marked new high record 888 cases of the COVID-19 Coronavirus infections per day. The COVID-19 infection cases in Japan has topped 200,000 on 21 December 2020.  EPA/KIMIMASA MAYAMA

Tokyo consumer prices fell the fastest in more than a decade, while Japan’s jobs market and retail sales remained subdued, data showed on Friday, raising the risks of a return to deflation as the Covid-19 pandemic hammers demand.

The world’s third-biggest economy recovered in the three months to September from its worst post-war contraction, but a third wave of the coronavirus infections threatens the economic revival. The Bank of Japan unveiled a plan last week to examine more effective ways to achieve its elusive 2 per cent inflation target.

The core consumer price index (CPI) for Japan’s capital, including oil products but excluding fresh food, fell 0.9 per cent in December from a year earlier, the steepest drop since September 2010.

That was deeper than economists’ median estimate for a 0.8 per cent fall and deepened from a 0.7 per cent decline in November. The December drop was the fastest downturn since September 2010, when core consumer prices slumped 1.0 per cent.

Nationwide data last week for November also showed the steepest price slump since late 2010.

“There is a chance that the nation will return to deflation due to the coronavirus pandemic,” said Takeshi Minami, chief economist at Norinchukin Research Institute. “Private demand is weak as people, especially older people, stay home to keep from getting infected, making it difficult for prices to rise.”

Japan’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 2.9 per cent, better the median forecast of 3.1 per cent, government data showed. In October, the jobless rate stood at 3.1 per cent.

There were 1.06 jobs per applicant in November, up from the previous month’s 1.04, labour ministry data showed, but still near September’s seven-year low 1.03.

The pandemic remained a drag on consumer spending, with a renewed spike in infections raising fresh risks for a weakened economy.

Japanese retail sales rose a moderate 0.7 per cent in November from a year earlier, the second straight gain but slower than October’s 6.4 per cent jump and below the median market forecast for a 1.7 per cent gain.