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Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda has ordered ministers to develop a policy to soften the blow of higher oil prices on consumers and businesses.

“This emergency policy aims to help small and midsize companies as well as Japanese consumers,” economic and fiscal policy minister Hiroko Ota told reporters Tuesday. Corporate profits dropped for the first time in five years last quarter as energy costs surged, the Finance Ministry said Monday. Fukuda is trying to extend an economic expansion that’s losing steam while also cutting spending to erase the deficit and reduce the world’s largest public debt.

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