• Kyodo

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Business sentiment among workers with jobs sensitive to economic trends in Japan jumped in October to its highest level since January 2014 as the government lifted the state of emergency over the coronavirus, and eateries and retailers began recovering from the pandemic fallout, official data showed Tuesday.

The diffusion index of confidence measuring the current mood compared with three months earlier among “economy watchers,” such as taxi drivers and restaurant staff, climbed 13.4 points from September to 55.5, up for the second straight month, according to the Cabinet Office.

The monthly improvement was the largest since June last year, a month after the country’s first state of emergency was fully lifted, it said.

The office also upgraded its assessment of the economy for the second consecutive month, saying, “The economy is gradually picking up though concerns remain over the coronavirus pandemic.” In the previous month, the office said the economy “has been rebounding.”

A reading above 50 indicates that more respondents reported improving conditions than worsening ones. The office polled 2,050 workers from Oct. 25 to 31, of whom 1,811, or 88.3%, responded.

New COVID-19 cases in Japan have significantly decreased recently, with the figure falling to triple digits, compared to a peak level of nearly 26,000 in August. Japan’s coronavirus state of emergency was fully lifted on Sept. 30.

Requests for eateries to restrict their opening hours were mostly lifted across the country in late October.

A restaurant worker in the Hokuriku region in central Japan said, “People in the prefecture are gradually starting to go out” and “the number of tourists and business travelers is growing as well.”

In the Tohoku region in northeastern Japan, an employment agency worker said job openings are increasing for a wide range of businesses, including retailers, restaurants and lodging industries.

But a car dealership in Kyushu, southwestern Japan, is experiencing “an extreme sales slump” as automakers slashed production due to a lingering global semiconductor shortage stemming from the pandemic, its staff said.

Since many workers voiced similar worries over the impact of supply chain disruptions and recent rises in raw materials prices, the diffusion index gauging business sentiment in the coming months edged up only 0.9 point from the previous month to 57.5.

“We fear a tendency to spend cautiously could prevail among consumers this winter due to price increases in gasoline, electricity, gas and various food products,” said a supermarket worker in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost main island.

A worker at a metal product manufacturer in the Chugoku region, western Japan, expects severe business conditions to continue, as it remains difficult to pass on the higher cost of not only iron but most other raw materials to product prices.

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