The economy grew by a real 0.5 percent in the January to March quarter, marking its fifth consecutive quarter of growth despite a slowdown in private consumption, the government said Friday.

The preliminary GDP figures exceeded the forecasts of private-sector economists and translate into annual growth of 1.9 percent. But they also failed to surpass the 4.3 percent annualized growth logged the previous quarter, the Cabinet Office said.

The slowdown is largely attributed to moderate private consumption, which had been boosted by a wave of cold weather during the previous period.

“It doesn’t mean that the basic economic conditions have changed, and (the government) should reckon that (the economy) remains in good condition in all areas,” financial services minister Kaoru Yosano told a news conference following the report’s release.

“In terms of trend, Japan has managed to maintain its economic growth,” Yosano said, brushing aside concerns that the economy may run out of steam amid soaring crude oil prices, the yen’s rise against the dollar and falling stock prices.

Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki also told reporters the government can maintain its judgment that private demand-led recovery will continue, while paying attention to high crude oil prices.

He also underscored the need for the government and the Bank of Japan to stay united on fighting deflation.

Friday’s report shows that the GDP deflator — a measure of the change in prices of all new, domestically produced, final goods and services — dropped 1.3 percent for the January-March quarter on a quarter-on-quarter basis, compared with a 1.6 percent decline logged in the previous quarter, with high crude oil prices affecting domestic prices.

Private consumption grew by 0.4 percent, backed by strong sales of items that include minicars and liquid-crystal TV screens — compared with 0.6 percent growth logged the previous quarter.

While private housing investment rose 1.1 percent — compared with 2.1 percent growth the previous quarter, private-sector capital investment grew 1.4 percent, backed by construction- and automobile-related investment, recovering from a 0.2 percent drop logged a quarter ago.

Exports were up 2.7 percent with the help of brisk sales of automobiles and steel products, while imports increased 3 percent, recovering from a 0.6 percent fall logged the previous quarter.

Meanwhile, nominal growth, which doesn’t take into account general changes in prices, remained almost flat during the January-March quarter, translating into an annual 0.2 percent growth.

For fiscal 2005, which ended in March, the economy rose by a real 3 percent from the previous year, marking four consecutive years of growth and the highest growth rate since fiscal 1990 when it hit 6 percent, the Cabinet Office said.

The nominal growth rate hit 1.7 percent, marking three consecutive years of growth.

With Friday’s data, the economy met both government targets, of 2.7 percent real growth and 1.6 percent nominal growth, for the fiscal year.

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