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Japan's core consumer prices rise 0.8% on year in March

A shopper selects vegetables at a supermarket in Tokyo. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan's core consumer prices rose 0.8 percent in March from a year earlier as gasoline prices logged a year-on-year increase following a fall in the previous month, government data showed Friday.

The pace of increase in the nationwide consumer price index, excluding fresh food items because of their volatility, picked up from a 0.7 percent gain in February.

Prices rose for the 27th straight month, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, though the gains were below the Bank of Japan's 2 percent inflation target. Lagging inflation is a headache for the central bank, which aims to keep the economy from falling back into growth-stunting deflation.

For fiscal 2018 ended in March, the core CPI rose 0.8 percent for the second straight yearly increase, accelerating from a 0.7 percent expansion in the previous year.

In March, gasoline prices rose 1.3 percent from a year earlier due to a recent resurgence in crude oil prices amid expectations for a robust economic performance by the United States and economic recovery in China.

Utility bills also rose, reflecting a climb in crude oil prices late last year, while prices for transportation and communications dipped 0.3 percent due to a 4.3 percent decline in mobile phone fees, the ministry said.

So-called core-core consumer prices, which exclude both fresh food and energy items, rose 0.4 percent, unchanged from February.

Takeshi Minami, chief economist at the Norinchukin Research Institute, said he expects the pace of price rises to remain moderate as consumers are "very sensitive" to higher prices.

"Low-priced private-brand products continue to hit the shelves at large supermarkets and resorting to price hikes is not easy," he said.

Junichi Makino, chief economist at SMBC Nikko Securities Inc., said declining mobile phone charges may further put downward pressure on the country's underlying inflation, following NTT Docomo Inc.'s recent announcement it will cut its mobile phone charges by up to 40 percent from June amid the government's call on telecom carriers to lower service fees.

"Other major wireless service operators would possibly lower their service fees following NTT Docomo's move," he said.

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