Japan’s jobless rate rises, prices fall as pandemic pain persists By Reuters

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People walk inside a building in Tokyo, Japan January 23, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato

By Kaori Kaneko and Leika Kihara

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s unemployment rate crept up and job availability slid in April, data showed on Friday, underscoring the pain the country’s prolonged battle with COVID-19 is inflicting on the economy.

Separate data showed core consumer prices in Tokyo fell in May, reinforcing expectations inflation will remain well below the central bank’s 2% target for the time being.

The government is looking to extend state of emergency curbs to combat at the pandemic by about three weeks to June 20, a cabinet minister said on Friday, clouding the outlook for the fragile recovery.

Japan’s jobless rate rose to 2.8% in April from 2.6% in March, government data showed on Friday, exceeding a median market forecast of 2.7%.

The jobs-to-applicants ratio stood at 1.09, down from the previous month’s 1.10, which was also the Reuters poll forecast.

“Job offers may have dipped again in May due to the third round of emergency declarations. That may further hold back the recovery in employment,” said Tom Learmouth, an economist at Capital Economics.

“But further ahead we still expect both employment and the labour force to return to pre-virus levels in the second half of the year as vaccines allow the economy to return to full health.”

Core consumer prices in Tokyo, considered a leading indicator of nationwide figures, fell 0.2% in May from a year earlier, separate data showed on Friday, matching a median market estimate.

Japan’s economy shrank in the first quarter and many analysts expect any rebound in the current quarter to be modest as renewed state of emergency curbs hurt consumption.

Weak domestic demand has stoked fears of a return to deflation even as other major economies see inflation tick up, keeping the Bank of Japan under pressure to maintain massive stimulus.

The expected extension of state of emergency curbs to combat COVID-19 heightens the chance the BOJ will push back the current September deadline for a package of measures to cushion the economic blow from the health crisis.

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