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Oil Adding Some Pressure

MNI (London)
--Volatile Crude Prices Seen Lesser Impact In Coming Months
By Hiroshi Inoue
     TOKYO (MNI) - The Bank of Japan is still cautious in its inflation outlook,
as January's pickup-up in Tokyo core CPI prices is seen driven by higher crude
prices and that will likely dissipate in coming months, MNI understands.
     Officials remain vigilant over the inflation outlook, with firms still
cautious about raising retail prices amid lacklustre consumer demand. 
     Tokyo core consumer price index rose 1.1% on year in January, accelerating
from +0.9% in December, mainly on the back of a higher positive contribution
from  crude oil prices; +0.40 percentage points in January against +0.38
percentage points in December.
     The positive contribution from the crude oil prices is widely expected to
weaken over coming months, weighing on the inflation rate -- unless the goods
and service price inflation that BOJ officials focus on accelerates.
     --INFLATION EXPECTATIONS EYED
     BOJ officials are closely eyeing how weaker consumer prices will impact
medium- to long-term inflation expectations, particularly from the volatile oil
prices.
     The BOJ board Wednesday lowered their median inflation forecast in fiscal
2019 to +0.9% from +1.4% made in October, while FY2020 was also lowered to +1.4%
from +1.5%. But the board maintained the assessment that the momentum toward
achieving the 2% price stability target is maintained, although it's not yet
sufficiently firm.
     Upward pressure on prices from rising materials and labor costs has been
somehow offset by corporate efforts to raise labor productivity by investing in
automation and information technology.
     --SERVICES UP, GOODS SLOW
     A bright spot for BOJ were the higher services prices, a main focus for
officials, which account for just over a half of the CPI basket. Service prices
rose 0.9% on year in January, accelerating from 0.7% in December.
     In central Tokyo, a leading indicator of nationwide price data, core CPI
rose 0.9% on year in January for the 19th straight year-on-year rise.
     Tokyo CPI is a leading indicator of the national CPI, with the next
national data due out on Feb. 22. The latest Tokyo data suggests national core
CPI will rise 0.8% or higher on year in January from December's +0.7%.
     On the other side of the slate, Goods excluding volatile fresh food rose
0.9% on year in January, decelerating from 1.0% in December, indicating that
corporate price-hike activity remains subdued across some sectors. Prices for
eating out rose 1.1% on year in January, decelerating from 1.2% in December.
--MNI Tokyo Bureau; tel: +81 90-2175-0040; email: hiroshi.inoue@marketnews.com
--MNI London Bureau; tel: +44 203-586-2225; email: les.commons@marketnews.com
[TOPICS: MMJBJI,MMJBJ$,M$A$$$,M$J$$$,MX$$$$]
MNI London Bureau | +44 203-865-3812 | les.commons@marketnews.com