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Japan Jobless Rate Up, Prices, Manufacturing Fall

By ELAINE KURTENBACH

TOKYO (AP) â¿¿ Japan's jobless rate edged higher and industrial production fell slightly in February as consumer prices also fell, underscoring the fragility of the recovery of the world's third-largest economy.

The government data released Friday showed the main consumer price index fell 0.3 percent from a year earlier as deflation continued to defy the combined efforts of the government and central bank to move toward a 2 percent inflation target. However the CPI was up 0.1 percent from January's figure.

Unemployment rose to 4.3 percent from 4.2 percent the month before, while industrial production slipped by 0.1 percent in the first decline in three months. The unemployment rate for those below the age of 35 is significantly higher, at over 6 percent.

Japan's central bank governor, Haruhiko Kuroda, said Thursday that he believed the economy was improving after years of stagnation and would enter a moderate recovery by midyear. But he acknowledged high uncertainty because of the global economy.

Kuroda has pledged to work with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government in achieving the 2 percent inflation target set in January, preferably within two years, and ending years of growth-inhibiting deflation.

After taking power late last year, Abe's administration embarked on an aggressive stimulus program of government spending, monetary easing and planned reforms aimed at improving Japan's competitiveness. Revised figures show Japan's economy likely emerged from a recession late last year, but other data has been mixed.

The government's strategy will depend on getting consumers, whose spending accounts for the lion's share of economic activity, to spend more, and that in turn will hinge on encouraging companies to raise wages and increasing higher. Many companies huge cash reserves after having shed debt from the collapse of the economic bubble over 20 years ago but are wary of increasing investment given the existing weak demand and the aging and shrinking of the Japanese population.

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