Japan’s retail sales increased for a third straight month, as easing virus concerns fueled spending by consumers before the emergence of the Omicron variant.
Sales advanced 1.2% in November from the previous month, as shoppers spent more on clothing and motor vehicles, the industry ministry reported Monday. Economists had expected a 1.3% overall gain.
While Japan’s consumption hasn’t jumped to the extent that it has in places like the US, spending has increased since a fall in virus cases in September allowed state of emergency restrictions to be lifted at the end of that month. The increase shows the importance of keeping the spread of omicron under control if consumption is to drive the economy’s recovery.
“It’s not the sort of rebound in spending that was hoped for before the state of emergency was lifted, but we’re seeing a gradual come back,” said economist Yuichi Kodama at Meiji Yasuda Research Institute.
Kodama sees the economy returning to growth this quarter largely thanks to consumer spending, with some continued support from trade with the US and Europe.
The consensus forecast among analysts is for Japan to grow at an annualized pace of 6.1% in the final three months of 2021.
While Japan has so far managed to avoid a mass outbreak of Omicron even as it rampages in the US and the UK, the situation could swiftly change.
After finding the first case of community spread of omicron last week in western Osaka prefecture, another case was found Thursday in neighboring Kyoto with other cases confirmed elsewhere over the weekend.
The country’s program for vaccine booster shots is yet to get into full swing, though nearly 80% of the population has been fully vaccinated so far.