Japan household spending falls unexpectedly, clouds BOJ rate path

By Satoshi Sugiyama and Leika Kihara

TOKYO (Reuters) -Japanese household spending fell unexpectedly in May as higher prices continued to squeeze consumers’ purchasing power, data showed on Friday, complicating the central bank’s decision on how soon to raise interest rates.

Many analysts expect consumption to rebound in the coming months as big wage hikes offered by companies and a tax break aimed at cushioning the blow from rising living costs reach households.

The Bank of Japan (BOJ) will highlight how pay increases are spreading, including at smaller firms, in a report due later this month, sources have told Reuters, a trend that strengthens the case for a near-term interest rate hike.

But Friday’s soft reading underscores the fragile nature of consumer activity, and casts doubt on the BOJ’s view a solid economic recovery will keep inflation durably around its 2% target – a prerequisite for raising interest rates.

“The BOJ has been saying all along that consumption is firm. Today’s data could force the bank to alter that view and make it difficult to justify a rate hike in July,” said Masato Koike, senior economist at Sompo Institute Plus.

Consumer spending fell 1.8% in May from a year earlier, far short of the median market forecast for a 0.1% uptick, as rising food prices weighed on spending for other items, data showed.

A separate index compiled by the BOJ on Friday, which strips away the impact of inbound tourism, also showed consumption was flat in May from the previous month, slowing from a 1.0% gain in April.


The weak reading followed an unexpected downward revision to Japan’s first-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) and a slew of surveys showing worsening consumer sentiment.

BOJ Governor Kazuo Ueda has said he expects consumption to recover as household income gets a boost from the wage hikes being offered by employers, and government subsidies to curb electricity bills.

Japanese firms offered to hike pay by 5.1% on average this year, the biggest increase in 33 years and far outpacing inflation now hovering at about 2%, a labour union survey showed on Wednesday.

Many analysts expect the BOJ to hold off on raising rates this month to await more evidence that wage hikes will spread to smaller firms and boost consumption.

But some think rising inflation, driven in part by a weak yen that boosts import costs, may prompt the central bank to act.

“The BOJ will probably stick to its view the weakness in consumption will prove temporary,” said Mari Iwashita, chief market economist at Daiwa Securities.

“It could even decide to raise rates in July if it sees rising inflation as the key factor hurting consumption.”

The BOJ next meets for a policy meeting on July 30-31, when it will also produce fresh quarterly growth and price forecasts that serve as a basis for deciding future monetary policy.

Japan’s economy shrank more than initially reported in the January-March quarter in a rare, unscheduled revision to GDP data. But many economists expect growth to rebound this quarter thanks to the higher wages and robust capital expenditure.

(Reporting by Satoshi Sugiyama and Leika Kihara; Additional reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Stephen Coates and Helen Popper)


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