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Repeats Story Initially Transmitted at 01:45 GMT Feb 1/20:45 EST Jan 31
By Hiroshi Inoue
TOKYO (MNI) - The pick-up in Japan's industrial production in the fourth
quarter is certainly encouraging for Bank of Japan officials after the weak
third quarter, but they are now focused on Q1 data to see the underlying trend
and whether overseas economic slowdowns are weighing, MNI understands.
The bounce back was expected in Q4, as output in the July-September period
was badly hit by a string of natural disasters across Japan. However, officials
note that the Q4 snapback largely only recouped the lost production from Q3, as
companies already operating at close to maximum capacity couldn't expand output.
The BOJ still views production as on a moderate rising path, but need
confirmation from a solid Q1 to get past the risk that the the economy is at an
inflection point, weighed by growing overseas risks. Officials are focused on
how global demand, mainly in China, evolves in the coming months and whether a
global slowdown in recent months has had a detrimental effect of Japan's
Industrial output is a key piece of data for BOJ economists, as they use it
to assess and predict the pace of Japan's ongoing economic recovery, as it
reflects both external and domestic demand, mainly capital investment.
Production rose 1.9% on quarter in Q4, recovering after the earthquake and
weather-impacted 1.3% decline in Q3.
--DEC OUTPUT SLIPS
Industrial production fell 0.1% on month in December data released Thursday
by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) showed, outpacing the MNI
median economist forecast of -0.3%.
BOJ officials think that December's drop, like November's, was a reaction
to October's strong gain (+2.9%) and they will focus on the quarter-on-quarter
move in Q1 to examine the underlying trend. December's fall was due mainly to
lower output of production machinery and electronic parts/devices, perhaps
underlining weaker overseas demand.
METI maintained its outlook from last month, saying that "production is
picking up moderately." However, they see production dipping in January, before
picking up in February. Adjusting the upward bias in output plans, METI forecast
production would drop 2.3% on month in January and rise 2.6% in February.
If output is flat in March, industrial production will fall 0.6% in Q1
after the Q4 gain, making it difficult for the BOJ to maintain their assessment
of an ongoing modest pick-up.
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