Japan’s industrial output in May rose 3.9 percent from April, increasing for the fourth consecutive month thanks to brisk exports, according to a preliminary report released Friday by the Ministry of Economy, Trade Industry.

The month-on-month rise is the largest since September 1992, when industrial production increased 4.2 percent from the previous month, ministry officials said.

The seasonally adjusted production index at mines and factories came to 96.6 in May against a 100-point benchmark established in 1995. The index marked its highest level since June 2001, when the figure marked 97.8.

The ministry attributed the increase in the output to robust exports of electronic components and automobiles and large orders for multipurpose computers, steam turbines and water-pipe boilers.

However, the ministry kept its overall assessment of output trends unchanged from April, when it upgraded its view for the first time in two months and struck a positive note for the first time since December 2000.

“Industries are trying to seize opportunities to raise (their economic performance),” a ministry official said. “But because our (industrial output) forecasts are not bright and prospects for the U.S. economy are uncertain, we need to monitor the situation for a while.”

The ministry said it expects industrial output to remain flat in June on a month-on-month basis but decrease 0.3 percent in July.

Shipments for May jumped 4.8 percent from the previous month, up for the sixth consecutive month. The seasonally adjusted index of shipments was 101.2.

Inventories for May rose 0.2 percent from April, the first increase in nine months, due mainly to increased production of air conditioners and refrigerators to meet seasonal demand and vehicles to be shipped to overseas markets, the ministry official said.

The seasonally adjusted index for inventory ratio — inventories divided by shipments — dropped 2.2 percent on a monthly basis to 98.4, marking its third straight month of decline.

Housing starts up 6%

Housing starts across the country rose 5.8 percent in May to 106,110 units, chalking up the first year-on-year increase in three months, the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry said Friday.

The ministry attributed the increase primarily to an increase in rental homes built with public funds.

The number of starts rose in all three main categories: owner-occupied homes; houses built for rental; and houses built for sale.

A ministry official said, however, that the nation’s lingering job concerns and its decreasing number of children are not conducive to a further steady increase in housing starts.

Starts involving owner-occupied homes rose 1.5 percent to 34,270 units for the second straight monthly increase. Rental homes increased 12 percent to 42,730 units, also up for the second month in a row.

Starts of homes for sale climbed 1.9 percent to 28,408 units, logging their first rise in three months.

The ministry said building activity was particularly strong in the Kinki region, which includes Osaka and Kyoto, with overall starts rising 10.2 percent and starts of rental homes skyrocketing 74.1 percent from a year earlier.

Starts rose 8.7 percent in the Tokyo metropolitan area, with those of rental homes jumping 25.2 percent.

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