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Japan's mixed May data shows economy slowing

TOKYO--Mixed economic data for May suggests Japan's economy is continuing to slow after a sales tax increase at the beginning of the second quarter.

Government figures released Monday and last Friday showed that housing starts and household spending fell in May while industrial output grew less than expected.

Japan's economy was the one of the best performing in the industrial world in the first three months of the year, growing 6.7 percent from the year before. But the April 1 increase in Japan's sales tax to 8 percent from 5 percent is expected to cause a contraction in the economy for the April-June quarter because demand has fallen off following a rush of purchasing to beat the tax hike.

Factory output in the world's third-largest economy climbed 0.8 percent in May from a year earlier, and was up 0.5 percent from the month before, the economy ministry reported. That was lower than most forecasts, but an improvement from a 2.8 percent drop in April.

Higher output of machinery, cars and electronic devices accounted for most of the increase, the ministry said. Since manufacturers are reporting rising inventories, they are forecasting a decline in output in June before a further recovery in July and beyond, the report said.

Housing starts fell 15 percent in May from the year before, the government reported. Construction starts have slowed since hitting a peak in October last year.

Much of the growth in demand before the sales tax was raised was attributed to construction of new homes. Now, many lots that were cleared of older structures last year remain idle due to the fall-off in construction. The tax increase is part of measures aimed at containing Japan's vast public debt.

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