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Japanese Factories Slow Down, Unemployment Rises

Tue, 11/30/2010 - 4:07am
Jay Alabaster, Associated Press

TOKYO (AP) — Japan's factories cut production for the fifth straight month in October, the government said Tuesday, but the decrease wasn't as bad as expected and a turnaround may be on the horizon.

Meanwhile, unemployment worsened slightly and consumer spending fell in October, showing improvements for average households may still take time.

Tokyo is struggling to keep its nascent economic recovery alive, battling deflation and a strong yen, which can hurt exports. The current government is facing sinking approval ratings and has made job creation a priority, last week passing a new $61 billion stimulus package with support for small businesses and regional economies.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said Tuesday that industrial production fell 1.8 percent, pulled down as makers of cars and electronic goods scaled back output.

That marked the fifth straight month of falls, but was much better than the 3.4 percent fall predicted in a market survey by the Kyodo News agency.

In another positive sign, manufacturers surveyed by the ministry said they expected to crank up their factories in the next two months, forecasting increases of 1.4 percent in November and 1.5 percent in December.

Separately, the government said that the national unemployment rate rose to 5.1 percent in October, up from 5 percent a month earlier. The figure is low by international standards but historically high for Japan.

Compared to a year earlier, the total number of jobless in the country decreased 0.3 percent to 3.34 million in October, the government said. Those with jobs nudged up by 150,000 to 62.86 million.

The unemployment rate counts only those who are actively looking for work, not individuals who have dropped out of the job market entirely.

Tokyo also said Tuesday that household spending fell a real 0.4 percent in October from a month earlier. Government subsidies for electronic goods and cars, put in place to prod consumer spending during the downturn, have expired in recent months.

Deflation is also weighing down the economy. Last week the government said consumer prices fell for the 20th straight month.

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