TOKYO (AP) â¿¿ Japan's manufacturing improved slightly in March, with factory output rising 0.2 percent, while the jobless rate also fell slightly.
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said Tuesday that the figures, the fourth straight monthly increase, suggest the economy is poised for recovery. It cited strength in chemicals, electrical components, telecommunications equipment and steam turbines.
Unemployment edged lower, to 4.1 percent from 4.3 percent in February, while household spending rose 5.2 percent in real terms from a year earlier. Such spending accounts for about 60 percent of Japanese economic activity.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has raised government spending and pushed for aggressive monetary easing to help extricate the economy from chronic deflation. The central bank says it expects a moderate recovery to begin by midyear but has warned progress is vulnerable to uncertainties in the domestic and global economies.
Critics of the "Abenomics" strategy question whether the extra funding pumped into the economy will foster sustainable growth or just push up prices for shares and other assets.
Key to the success of the policies will be increased spending by households and corporations, partly due to expectations that inflation will raise future prices. So far, consumer prices have remained flat or fallen. That will in turn depend on wage increases to boost household purchasing power, and on higher employment.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications reported that job availability improved in March, with 86 jobs offered for every 100 job seekers. The rate was 82 for the fiscal year that ended in March, up from 68 the year before, it said.
However, in March the number of male workers fell while the number of female workers rose, suggesting companies are likely relying on part-time employees to meet any increases in demand.