Japan prices rise for ninth month ahead of tax increase

Shoppers outside Uniqlo In a surprise to many analysts, consumer spending in Japan decreased in February

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Consumer prices in Japan increased by 1.3% in February compared with the same period last year, marking the ninth month in a row of gains.

The figure met analysts' expectations, but is still well below Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's inflation target of 2%.

Japanese consumer spending also slowed, official data revealed, ahead of a planned tax increase in April.

A separate release revealed that Japan's jobless rate fell to 3.6% - the lowest rate in six years.

When the tax increase comes into effect next month, sales tax on everyday goods will increase from 5% to 8%. Mr Abe has argued the tax increase is necessary to cut Japan's rising public debt, as its population ages.

The increase in consumer prices could help Japan combat its common foe - deflation, or decreasing prices - but could also slow down economic activity.

The figures have fuelled speculation about whether or not the Bank of Japan will step in with further stimulus measures should the tax increase have an adverse impact.

Already, analysts have been surprised by falling consumer spending - defying expectations that the planned tax increase would lead to a rush of shopping before its implementation.

Official figures also showed that household spending posted a surprise decline of 2.5% in February.

Retail sales in Japan increased by 3.6% in February, which is slower than the 4.4% growth in January.

However, some analysts blamed the decline on harsh weather over much of the country during the month.

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