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Japan's real wages fall at fastest pace in over 8 years in November, undercut by inflation

Friday, January 6, 2023
Japan's real wages fall at fastest pace in over 8 years in November, undercut by inflation © Reuters. FILE PHOTO-A worker walks near a factory at the Keihin industrial zone in Kawasaki, Japan February 17, 2016. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

By Kaori Kaneko and Tetsushi Kajimoto

TOKYO (Reuters) -Japan's real wages in November fell 3.8% from a year earlier, their fastest rate in more than eight years, as inflation undercut workers' pay, dealing a blow to policymakers' hopes of achieving faster economic growth led by higher wages.

Adding to the gloom, nominal annual pay growth slowed markedly in November, even though wages were up for an 11th straight month, official data showed on Friday, reflecting slow recovery from COVID-induced doldrums.

Growth in real wages - nominal wage growth adjusted for inflation - is a key indicator of consumer purchasing power.

The data underscored the challenge for Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's government in seeking faster wage hikes that outpace rising inflation, encourage spending and stimulate the economy. The objective is the focus of the upcoming annual "shunto" labour-management talks to be concluded in mid-March.

With record profits, Japanese firms have piled up internal cash and other reserves that by September were worth 500 trillion yen ($3.7 trillion). The companies are expected to offer pay rises of around 2.7%, versus the previous year's 2.07%.

That would fall far short of the 5% demanded by the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, known as Rengo, and would not match core consumer inflation, which is at a more than four-decade high.

Sluggish wage recovery remains a pressing issue for Japan as surging living costs hurt households and weigh on consumer spending in the economy, the world's third largest.

Kishida this week urged firms to accelerate wage hikes that exceed the rate of inflation to prevent stagflation.

November's 3.8% annual fall in inflation-adjusted real wages was the greatest since a 4.1% drop in May 2014, when they had been affected by rises in sales tax, the labour ministry said.

The consumer price index that the ministry uses to calculate real wages, which includes fresh food but not the rent value of owner-occupied homes, was 4.5% higher in November that a year earlier, the quickest pace of increase since June 1981.

Nominal total cash earnings were up an annual 0.5% in November, but the pace of growth slowed from a revised 1.4% gain seen in October, led by falls in special payments such as bonuses.

($1 = 133.6 yen)

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