The Finance Ministry on Wednesday left its overall assessment of the economy unchanged for the November-January period for the fourth straight quarter, saying the economy was making a gradual recovery despite the appearance of weak movements.

A ministry official said some weak movements represent sluggish sales of winter clothes and heating equipment due to higher than average temperatures in the reporting quarter and slower production in the information technology sector following inventory adjustments for IT products.

Of the 11 regions covered by the ministry’s local bureaus, nine left the assessment of their economies unchanged and two — Hokkaido and Kanto — revised downward their economic assessments, the ministry said in a quarterly report on regional economies.

Weaker housing construction and a downbeat outlook for corporate earnings hit the Hokkaido economy, while slowing production and personal spending clouded prospects for the Kanto region, which covers the Tokyo metropolitan area, it said.

The Tokai region centering on Nagoya fared well among the regions. The Tokai bureau reported that production of automobiles and related parts remains high in the region, while expressing concern over possible labor shortages ahead of the 2005 World Exposition, to be held in Aichi Prefecture from March 25 through Sept. 25, and the Feb. 17 opening of Chubu Centrair International Airport, also in Aichi.

Looking ahead, the ministry expects the economy to continue making a gradual recovery in the coming months, but said attention should be paid to the impact of high crude oil prices and of the inventory adjustment in the IT sector.

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