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Japan revises down third-quarter economic growth

TOKYO--Japan's economic growth slowed markedly in July-September, revised data showed Monday, highlighting the challenges facing Tokyo's bid to fire up the world's third-largest economy.

The once anemic economy had been outpacing other G-7 nations in the first half of the year as a policy blitz led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe helped push down the yen, giving a boost to exporters and sparking a stock market rally.

That had stoked optimism over Japan's prospects. But on Monday, the Cabinet Office revised down Japan's third-quarter economic growth to a final reading of 0.3 percent from an initial figure of 0.5 percent — a sharp slowdown from 0.9 percent growth in the previous quarter.

On an annualized basis, which stretches the data across a full year, growth was 1.1 percent in the quarter against an initial reading of 1.9 percent.

A turndown in corporate capital spending was largely to blame for the downward revision, while Japan's export sector remains under pressure as Tokyo logs ballooning trade deficits.

The figures came out on the same day the government announced that the current account — the broadest measure of its trade with the rest of the world — saw a deficit of 127.9 billion yen in October, reversing a 420.8 billion yen surplus a year ago.

The fresh gross domestic product data means the headline-grabbing growth enjoyed the first half of the year has eased in the second half and is now well behind the U.S. economy, which expanded at a revised 3.6 percent annualized rate in the third quarter.

Some economists predict the Japanese economy will pick up pace toward the year end, but they remain divided over whether the government's stimulus policies will cement lasting growth.

Investors largely shrugged off the data, with Tokyo's Nikkei 225 stock index up 1.85 percent by the morning break.

“Japan's economic growth will yet again accelerate into the latter half of the fiscal year on the back of the continued impact of fiscal stimulus and front-loading consumption demand due to the (sales) tax hike,” Credit Agricole said.

Tokyo on Thursday approved a spending package worth almost US$54 billion in a bid to offset the tax rise — to 8.0 percent from 5.0 percent — that comes into effect next year and which critics fear will derail Japan's budding recovery.

The stimulus is loaded with public works spending, including construction projects for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, rebuilding coastal communities shattered by the 2011 quake-tsunami and updating the country's ageing infrastructure.

London-based Capital Economics called the package “disappointing.”

“The measures focused on old-fashioned subsidies and public works which will do very little to boost competitiveness,” it said.

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A woman walks by an electronic stock board of a securities firm in Tokyo, which shows higher global stock markets, including Japan's Nikkei 225, top center, which gained 301.20 points to close at 15,601.06 on Monday, Dec. 9.


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