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Japan's February consumer inflation slows, stays distant from BOJ's goal

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Japan's February consumer inflation slows, stays distant from BOJ's goal
FILE PHOTO: A woman looks at items outside an outlet store at a shopping district in Tokyo, Japan, February 25, 2016. REUTERS/Yuya Shino/File Photo   -   Copyright  Yuya Shino(Reuters)
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By Leika Kihara

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s core consumer prices rose 0.7 percent in February from a year earlier, data showed on Friday, slowing from the previous month’s pace and remaining distant from the central bank’s ambitious 2 percent target.

The price data underscores the fragile nature of Japan’s economic recovery, as escalating Sino-U.S. trade frictions and slowing Chinese growth weigh on exports and business sentiment.

The increase in the nationwide core consumer price index (CPI), which includes oil products but excludes volatile fresh food costs, compared with a median market forecast of 0.8 percent. In January, annual core consumer inflation hit 0.8 percent.

An index the Bank of Japan focuses on – the so-called core-core CPI that strips away the effect of both volatile food and energy costs – rose 0.4 percent in February, unchanged from the previous month’s gain.

The BOJ faces a dilemma. Years of heavy money printing have dried up market liquidity and hurt commercial banks’ profits, stoking concerns over the rising risks of prolonged easing.

And yet, subdued inflation has left the BOJ well behind its U.S. and European counterparts in dialling back crisis-mode policies, and with a dearth of ammunition to battle an abrupt yen spike that could derail an export-driven economic recovery.

Some analysts say core consumer inflation may grind to a halt in coming months as recent oil price falls push down gas and electricity bills, which could put the BOJ under pressure to ramp up an already massive stimulus programme.

(Reporting by Leika Kihara; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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