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Japan's service mood rebounds as end to COVID-19 curbs bring shoppers, tourists back

Japan's service mood rebounds as end to COVID-19 curbs bring shoppers, tourists back

People walk along a pedestrian crossing at Ginza shopping street on Feb 9, 2023, in Tokyo. (Photo: AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

TOKYO: Japan's service-sector sentiment rebounded in February for the first time in four months, a government survey showed on Wednesday (Mar 8), a sign that the removal of COVID-19 curbs is giving a much-needed boost to the country's sluggish consumption.

The outcome offers some relief for policymakers fretting that rising living costs could discourage households from shopping and travelling, thereby derailing Japan's delayed recovery from the scars of the pandemic.

The survey of workers such as taxi drivers, hotel workers and restaurant staff, called "economy watchers" for their proximity to consumer and retail trends, showed their confidence about current economic conditions stood at 52.0 in February, up 3.5 points from the previous month.

"With more events and concerts being held, passenger numbers for international and domestic flights are starting to return to pre-pandemic levels," a taxi driver was quoted as saying in the survey.

There is also hope the government's decision to ease COVID-19 restrictions on travellers from China will give a boost to retailers and other industries reliant on inbound tourism.

"We're seeing clear signs of recovery in travel demand, which has been lacklustre so far," a travel agency was quoted as saying in the survey.

Shares of Japanese retailers rallied on Wednesday on optimism for a return of mainland Chinese tourists, helping lift the Nikkei stock average to a three-and-a-half-month high.

But the survey also quoted a convenience store operator as saying that companies and households were seeing budgets squeezed by rising utility bills, suggesting the outlook for consumption remained murky.

Japan's economy averted recession in the fourth quarter but rebounded much less than expected due to soft capital expenditures, highlighting the fragile state of the country's recovery.

While policymakers hope households will boost spending with savings accumulated during COVID-19 curbs, soaring fuel and raw material costs have eroded purchasing power.

Real wages fell by the most in nearly nine years in January as inflation hit a four-decade high, data showed on Tuesday, boding ill for the outlook for consumption.

Source: Reuters/ga


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