Japan's consumer prices fell at the fastest rate in nearly three years in March, at 0.3 per cent, while markets reacted negatively to news that there would be no extra stimulus measures to help revive economic growth. The official inflation figures represent the first decline in five months, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications on Thursday, which put the drop in prices down to falling global energy prices. The core consumer price index, which excludes fresh food, stood at 102.7 against a base of 100 for 2010, the ministry said. The fall in prices recorded in March - indicating deflation - is far below the two percent inflation goal set by the Bank of Japan.
Despite the decline, Japan's central bank said on Thursday that it would not increase the already aggressive monetary easing measures, introduced three years ago to combat years of deflation.
Japanese shares plunged more than three percent following the announcement. The benchmark Nikkei 225 Stock Average dropped by 3.61 percent to close at 16,666.05 after rising as much as 1.6 per cent in the morning, amid expectations of action by the bank. The broader Topix index fell 43.75 points, or 3.16 per cent, to close at 1,340.55. On currency markets at 3 p.m. (0600 GMT), the dollar traded between 108.90-108.91 yen, down sharply from Wednesday's 5 p.m. quote of 111.20-111.21 yen.
Japan's central bank once again pushed back their deadline to achieve inflation targets to sometime in fiscal 2017 from previous predictions in January for the first half of fiscal 2017. The central bank also cut their economic growth outlook to 1.2 per cent for the current financial year from the 1.5 per cent which was estimated three months ago, amid growing concern that the yen's recent rise would hurt exporters' profits. The yen has climbed about nine percent against the US dollar since the start of this year.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to jump-start the world's third-largest economy when he took office in December 2012, but his economic policies have failed to achieve long-term economic growth.
Japan's economy shrank at an annual rate of 1.1 percent in the October-to-December period for the second contraction in three quarters. In January, the bank imposed negative interest rates to boost the flow of money through the economy, but these have so far not had the desired positive effect.
In other data released Thursday, household spending fell 5.3 percent from March 2015, marking the largest year-on-year decline. Meanwhile, inflation-adjusted monthly wages inched up 0.3 percent from March 2015, for the first rise in seven months.
Japan's unemployment rate edged down to 3.2 percent in March to mark the first fall in two months, the ministry said. The rate was down from a seasonally adjusted rate of 3.3 percent in February. Medical and welfare services added 270,000 jobs to employ a total of 8.07 million and the education industry saw an increase of 70,000 employees to 2.98 million, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications said. The availability of jobs - measured as the ratio of job offers per job seeker - rose to 1.3 in March, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.