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Japan inflation slows in Feb. as gasoline prices fall

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Underlying inflation in Japan slowed in February as gasoline prices fell for the first time in more than two years, government data showed Friday.

The nationwide core consumer price index, which excludes fresh food items because of their volatility, rose 0.7 percent from a year earlier, slowing from a 0.8 percent increase in January.

Prices rose for the 26th straight month, according to the data released by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

Gasoline prices fell 1.3 percent, the first decline since November 2016, tracking a plunge in crude oil prices late last year. But with the recent resurgence in oil, gasoline prices could also rebound next month, a ministry official said in a press briefing.

Mobile phone fees were also down, while utility bills, accommodation, and durable goods rose in price.

Lagging inflation is a headache for the Bank of Japan, which is pursuing a 2 percent target in a bid to keep the economy from falling back into growth-stunting deflation even as years of drastic monetary easing has led to little progress.

Last week, the central bank decided to maintain ultralow interest rates and asset purchases as Governor Haruhiko Kuroda kept to the script that upward momentum in prices remains intact, despite criticism that it should take a more flexible approach.

So-called core-core consumer prices, which exclude both fresh food and energy items, rose 0.4 percent in February, the same pace as the previous month.

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