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The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained at a record-high 5 percent for the second consecutive month in August, sources said Thursday.

Although the rate remained the same, the actual number of jobless appears to have increased by 200,000 to 3.3 million, the sources said. The government will officially release its job statistics for August today.

The unemployment rate has steadily increased since April, when it reached 4.8 percent. The rate was 4.9 percent in May and June.

In July, the unemployment rate hit 5 percent for the first time since the government began compiling statistics in 1953.

Sales plummet 3.6%

Combined sales by Japanese wholesalers and retailers dropped 3.6 percent in August from a year earlier to 41.96 trillion yen, continuing a downward trend, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said Thursday.

Sales by retailers fell for the fifth straight month, and those by wholesalers for the seventh month in a row, by 3.7 percent to 31.71 trillion yen, the ministry said in a preliminary report.

Retail sales dropped by the largest margin since April 2000, and could fall further in September with confidence knocked by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States and the Sept. 14 collapse of Osaka-based supermarket chain Mycal Corp.

The August drop sent the seasonally adjusted index of retailer sales to 89.2 against the 1995 base of 100, its lowest since Japan’s asset-inflated bubble economy burst in the early 1990s, a METI official said.

But the ministry refrained for the third straight month from revising down its view that retail sales are “relatively weak,” as it attributes the latest decline in part to unusually low temperatures, the official said.

Cool temperatures in August dragged down sales of summer clothing and air conditioners, pushing down sales by textile, clothing and accessory retailers by 6.3 percent.

Sales by home appliance retailers tumbled 12.1 percent, the largest fall since January 1999, due to falls in demand for personal computers and refrigerators.

Sales by large retailers slipped 3.4 percent after adjustment for the number of stores to 1.689 trillion yen, down for the 40th consecutive month, with department stores marking a 0.8 percent drop and supermarkets a 5 percent fall.

Sales by convenience stores reached 628.7 billion yen, down 4.2 percent for the second successive month, but up 0.9 percent when results from stores that opened in the year to August were included. The unadjusted sales figure was the smallest since METI began surveying convenience store sales in 1998, the official said.

Wholesaler sales meanwhile lost ground mainly due to restructuring by general trading houses and drops in sales of electric machinery, steel and rare metal for use in information technology, the official said.

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