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Japan Poised for Return to Growth as Car Sales Jump: Economy

Japan Poised for Return to Growth as Car Sales Jump
Car sales jumped 24 percent, the most in 22 years, after the government re-introduced a subsidy for buyers of energy-efficient cars. Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg

Feb. 28 (Bloomberg) -- Japan’s retail sales exceeded economists’ forecasts in January, signaling a recovery in consumer spending will help the world’s third-largest economy return to growth this quarter.

Sales rose 1.9 percent from a year earlier, after a 2.5 percent increase in December, the Trade Ministry said in Tokyo today. The median forecast of 15 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News was for a 0.1 percent decline. Sales gained 4.1 percent from a month earlier.

Car sales jumped 24 percent, the most in 22 years, after the government re-introduced a subsidy for buyers of energy-efficient cars. A pick-up in household spending and reconstruction work after last year’s earthquake and tsunami is forecast to underpin an expansion in gross domestic product this quarter after a contraction in the final three months of 2011.

“The unusual surge in retail sales in January is mostly due to the special factor of government subsidies for eco-cars.” said Takuji Okubo, chief Japan economist at Societe Generale SA in Tokyo. “Excluding that factor, Japanese consumption is resilient.”

The MSCI Asia Pacific Index rose 0.6 percent as of 4:35 p.m. in Tokyo and the yen gained after touching a nine-month low yesterday. The currency traded at 80.62 per dollar.

A separate report today showed that Japanese exporters can remain profitable as long as the yen is 82 yen per dollar or weaker. The appreciating yen has eroded exporters’ earnings, with the yen-dollar exchange rate stronger than the breakeven rate released by the Cabinet Office since April 2011.

Export Slump

The yen’s climb to a postwar high in October led to a slump in exports and caused the Japanese economy to shrink an annualized 2.3 percent in the final three months of last year. RBS Securities Japan Ltd. has forecast an expansion of 1.6 percent this quarter.

Elsewhere in Asia, South Korea posted its first current-account deficit in nearly two years as exports dropped due to Europe’s debt crisis and the Lunar New Year holiday. The deficit was $772.2 million in January, the first shortfall since February 2010.

In the U.S., a report from the Commerce Department may show orders for durable goods fell 1 percent in January after a 3 percent gain the previous month, according to a Bloomberg News survey.

The S&P/Case-Shiller index of home prices in 20 U.S. cities may have fallen by 3.6 percent in December from a year earlier, according to the median forecast of economists. In November, the decline was 3.7 percent.

The Confederation of British Industry may say U.K. retail sales fell 12 points in February after falling to minus 22 points in the previous month, the lowest in almost three years, another survey indicated.

Increasing Confidence

In Japan, a recovery in household demand, which slumped in the aftermath of the March 11 disaster as weaker confidence and electricity shortages kept people at home, is helping retailers.

Yamada Denki Co., an electronics-store operator, forecast earnings that beat analysts’ estimates on Feb. 9. Seven & I Holdings Co., a convenience store chain, plans to open 300 outlets over the next three years that include self-service gas stands, the Nikkei newspaper reported on Feb. 21.

The consumer confidence index climbed to 40 in January, the highest since February 2011, the Cabinet Office said on Feb. 9. Monthly wages including overtime and bonuses rose for the first time in 7 months, increasing a revised 0.1 percent in December from a year earlier, according to the Labor Ministry data released Feb. 17.

To contact the reporter on this story: Keiko Ujikane in Tokyo at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Panckhurst at

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