The news from Japan recently has been mixed. Manufacturers gained confidence this quarter, as reported by Bloomberg.
Japan's manufacturers gained in confidence for a second straight quarter, adding to signs that they may sustain investment and fuel economic expansion in the world's second-largest economy.
Confidence among manufacturers with at least 1 billion yen ($8.6 million) in capital was 10.5 points in the three months ending December, up from 6.4 points in the previous quarter, according to a survey jointly released by the Cabinet Office and Ministry of Finance in Tokyo today. A positive number means more companies indicated conditions have improved compared with the previous three months...
Confidence among large non-manufacturers fell to 10.5 points from 11.6 points, today's report showed. Overall business confidence rose to 10.5 points, from 9.7 points. Manufacturers expect confidence to fall to 6.9 points in the first quarter next year and decline further to 6.2 points in the following three months.
Manufacturers plan to increase spending by 14.3 percent in the year to March 31 and non-manufacturers plan to spend 10.3 percent more, today's report said. Profits at manufacturers will rise 6.8 percent this fiscal year which ends March 31, while non-manufacturers predict a 6.8 percent increase as well in profits.
But consumers remain reluctant to increase spending, according to another Bloomberg report.
Japan's households spent less in November, suggesting spending by individuals may not help sustain growth in the world's second-largest economy.
Spending by households headed by a salaried worker fell 0.7 percent to 307,309 yen ($2,638), seasonally adjusted from October, the statistics bureau said in Tokyo today. Unemployment rose to 4.6 percent, higher than the median estimate of 4.3 percent by 30 economists in a Bloomberg survey.
There were mixed indications on the inflation front as well.
Japan's consumer prices rose last month for the first time in two years, gains the central bank says need to be sustained before changing its policy of keeping interest rates at almost zero.
Core prices rose 0.1 percent from a year earlier, the first increase since October 2003, and only the second time in more than seven years, the government's statistics bureau said today in Tokyo. The gain, which excludes prices of fresh food, matched the median forecast of 30 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News...
Excluding energy and all food, Japan's consumer prices fell 0.2 percent in November, according to the statistics bureau, which released that gauge for the first time at the request of Internal Affairs Minister Heizo Takenaka...
Prices in Tokyo, home to one in 10 Japanese, fell 0.2 percent in December from a year earlier, the statistics bureau said today. That matched economists' estimates in the Bloomberg survey.
But investors remain enthusiastic about Japan, with the Nikkei 225 closing above 16,000 yesterday.
Japanese share prices closed above 16,000 points Monday for the first time in over five years, gaining 1.04 percent as investors returned from a three-day weekend in an upbeat mood, dealers said.
They said after a year in which the main Nikkei has now risen by 40 percent, investors are betting on further gains in 2006 as the world's second-largest economy recovers after a decade in the doldrums.
The Tokyo Stock Exchange's benchmark Nikkei-225 index climbed 166.30 points to 16,107.67, the highest close since October 5, 2000.
The broader TOPIX index of all first-section shares closed up 11.05 points or 0.67 percent at 1,648.94 on turnover of 1.87 billion shares.
Meanwhile, in China, car production hit a record in November.
China's car production in November grew 52.1 percent from the same month last year to a record 291,900 units, breaking the previous record set in June of 275,100 units, according to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics Friday.
But there are signs that the breakneck pace of expansion in China may be coming to an end, with house prices slipping:
The Chinese Ministry of Construction said Monday the average housing prices in China's 70 major and medium-sized cities dropped by about 0.6 percent on a month-to-month basis since early July of 2005.
...and crude oil imports falling:
CHINA last month experienced its biggest drop in crude oil imports since January due to high prices and mild growth in demand, according to the latest figures.
China imported 10.33 million metric tons of the fuel in November, down 7.1 percent from a year earlier, the Customs General Administration of China said yesterday.