Japanese Wives Give Salarymen Reprieve With Allowance Gain

Japanese women are giving their husbands a reprieve, allowing them larger monthly allowances to offset a sales-tax rise at the start of the financial year.

Spending money, often set by wives who control family budgets, rose 2.9 percent to 39,572 yen ($389) from last year, according to Shinsei Bank Ltd., a Tokyo-based lender whose data go back to 1979. Salarymen spent more on drinking sessions, spending 3,483 yen an average of 2.4 times a month.

While yesterday’s report suggests family budgets may be withstanding April’s 3 percentage point tax increase, allowances remain at about half the level in 1989 at the height of the asset bubble. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared the end of deflation in an interview this week, and he now needs firms to dig into record cash piles and boost wages that lag inflation.

“The message is that it’s okay to raise allowances, but only by the amount of the sales-tax rise,” said Shinichiro Kobayashi, a senior economist at Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting Co. “It’s clear that real income is falling.”

Allowances for men in their 20s fell 1.6 percent, while those for men aged 30-59 rose. Women had 36,712 yen to spend, 2,860 yen less than their male counterparts.

The survey of 2,378 people was conducted online over three days from April 23. The poll included 1,048 male and 536 female full-time company workers, with the rest part-time workers of both sexes.

Even with the increased allowances, Japanese families have cut consumption since the tax rise. Spending by households of 2 or more people fell 8 percent in May from a year earlier, according to data released today, after a 4.6 percent drop in April.

‘One-Coin’ Lunch

Men’s lunch money rose 23 yen to 541 yen, roughly equivalent to Japan’s largest denomination coin plus the 8 percent sales tax.

As the Bank of Japan conducts unprecedented easing as it targets 2 percent inflation, restaurants near the bank’s central Tokyo building are offering “one-coin” 500 yen lunches.

“The number of lunches costing 500 yen is growing in this area,” said Lu Jianbo, 26, an owner of a Chinese restaurant on ‘BOJ Street.’

Base wages, excluding overtime and bonus payments, fell in April for a 23rd straight month, while average overall pay for Japanese workers was 274,241 yen, according to labor ministry data.

Accelerating Inflation

The BOJ’s stimulus has spurred inflation. Overall consumer prices rose 3.7 percent in May, the most in 23 years, according to data released today.

“Even if salarymen get bigger bonuses, they won’t be able to go drinking and dancing,” Mitsubishi UFJ’s Kobayashi said. “Their tough fight goes on.”

Yoshitaka Okita, a 61-year-old installation worker, doesn’t see any economic improvement under Abe’s reflationary policies.

“My allowance has been unchanged for at least 15 years,” Okita said outside Tokyo Station. “I switched from using a car to an electric bicycle because of higher gasoline prices.”

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