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Spending by wage-earning households turned downward in April for the first time in five months, plummeting a real 4.4 percent from a year earlier to an average of 347,882 yen, the government said Tuesday in a preliminary report.

The decline is the sharpest since December 1999, when household spending marked a 4.7 percent year-on-year fall, the Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications said.

Wage-earning households account for roughly 60 percent of Japan’s total household spending.

It is too early to determine whether the precipitous fall can be explained as a reaction to a spending spree before April, itself spurred by a new law that requires consumers to bear the cost of recycling appliances, a ministry official said.

In the reporting month, spending on transportation and communication turned downward for the first time in eight months.

falling 11.8 percent to 46,607 yen, while education expenditures marked the first downturn in five months, losing 18.5 percent to 26,070 yen.

In contrast, spending on entertainment turned upward for the first time in eight months, rising 12.7 percent to 35,558 yen, pushed up by strong demand for television sets and personal computers.

Spending on clothing and footwear increased for the first time in 18 months, rising 1.9 percent to 17,443 yen.

Total household income in April fell a real 0.5 percent to 498,869 yen for the fifth straight month of decline. Average disposable income dropped a real 2.2 percent to 412,408 yen. Nonconsumption outlays, such as taxes, were up a nominal 7.9 percent to 86,461 yen.

Households spent an average 285,710 yen on goods and services, down a real 3.5 percent.

Overall goods spending decreased a real 3.7 percent to 157,867 yen, with durable goods down 12.1 percent, semidurable goods down 0.6 percent and nondurable goods down 2.4 percent.

Services expenditures turned downward for the first time in five months, falling a real 3.3 percent to 127,843 yen, dragged down mainly by declines in spending on eating out and tuition fees.

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