Japan prices excluding food, energy at 15-year high, industrial output rises

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Japan's economy is gaining momentum, data for October showed, with consumer prices excluding food and energy rising 0.3 percent from a year earlier, the biggest gain since 1998. However, household spending remained tepid, as incomes slipped from the same month a year before.

The slew of indicators released Friday suggests that the ultra-loose monetary policy and stimulus strategy of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is helping end a long bout of deflation for the world's No. 3 economy.

Industrial output rose 0.5 percent in October, the second straight month of increase, driven by increases in production of machinery used to make computer chips and other industrial products, plastics and cell phones.

The government reported that excluding just food costs, the core consumer price index rose 0.9 percent from the year before. Including both food and energy, prices rose 1.1 percent.

Japan's jobless rate remained flat in October, though the number of jobs available rose slightly.

Further improvement is expected in November, driven by strength in housing construction and exports.

"Business conditions in the Japanese manufacturing economy improved for the ninth consecutive month and at a rapid pace in November, driven for the most part by an expansion of both foreign and domestic demand," said Claudia Tillbrooke, an economist at Markit, who compiles its purchasing manager's index.

It showed the PMI for November at 55.1, up from 54.2 in October. A reading above 50 suggests expansion.

The government and central bank have set a target for attaining a 2 percent inflation rate within two years. So far, economists say most of the increase in prices has come from a weakening in the Japanese yen, which erodes consumer spending power and increases costs in yen terms for imports of fuel, food and industrial components.

The 0.3 percent rise in prices excluding food and fuel was the highest since August 1998 and the first positive reading since 2008.

Prices for many daily necessities have risen: the data from October showed costs for electricity rose 8.2 percent; food prices rose 14 percent; transport costs climbed 3 percent; gasoline 7 percent and insurance rates 10 percent.

Japan's economy grew 1.9 percent in July-September, sharply lower than the 3.8 percent rise in the previous quarter. A planned 0.3 percent increase in April in the national sales tax, to 8 percent, is expected to push consumer spending higher in coming months, before a drop following the tax hike.

To sustain the recovery that began late last year, economists say companies must invest more and raise wages. Progress toward those goals appears limited.

Workers incomes fell an average of 1.3 percent in October. Household spending, which accounts for nearly two-thirds of Japan's economic activity, rose 0.9 percent in real terms but showed no increase from the month before. Excluding housing costs, spending fell 1.5 percent from the month before and fell 0.3 percent from September.