Japan retail sales climb more than expected; unemployment rises

Policymakers are hoping that rising prices may prompt Japanese consumers to start spending more money and boost domestic consumption

Japan’s retail sales grew for the third straight month in May despite continuing restrictions related to the pandemic and the unemployment rate rose further, official data revealed Tuesday.

Retail sales grew at a pace of 8.2 per cent year-on-year in May, but slower than the 11.9 per cent increase in April, data released by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry showed.

However, the annual growth rate was faster than the expected increase of 7.9 per cent and marked the third consecutive increase.

At the same time, retail sales fell 0.4 per cent in May from April, when sales declined 4.6 per cent.

Consumer spending is likely to remain unchanged from the first quarter levels in the second quarter, Tom Learmouth, an economist at Capital Economics, said.

Heading into the third quarter, with most state of emergency declarations lifted consumption should now be recovering strongly, the economist noted.

And that recovery should continue over the coming months as vaccines build up the economy’s immunity to the virus.

Elsewhere, data released by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications showed that the unemployment rate rose to a seasonally adjusted 3 per cent in May from 2.8 per cent in April.

On an unadjusted basis, the jobless rate came in at 3.1 per cent, up from 3 per cent in April.

The number of unemployed increased by 130,000 from the last year to 2.11 million in May.

While the further rise in the unemployment rate last month suggests on-off restrictions are taking their toll on the labor market, employment should bounce back strongly soon, Learmouth at Capital Economics, said.

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