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Economy

Panic buying in Japan lifts February retail sales

Job openings sink 2.2% as coronavirus crimps hiring

A woman shops in a supermarket in Tokyo after the local government asked its residents to stay home on March 27.    © AP

TOKYO -- Japan's retail sales in February rose 1.7% from the previous year to 11.2 trillion yen, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said Tuesday. Drugstore sales surged 18.9%, as consumers scrambled to buy face masks, toilet paper and other health and hygiene products in response to the new coronavirus outbreak.

The February figures are the first year-on-year increase in retail sales in Japan since September last year, when there was a last-minute rise in demand before the consumption tax increase.

Supermarket sales climbed 6.0%, led by consumer goods. Convenience stores rose 3.4%, with a significant increase in sales of processed food.

Department store sales dropped 11.8%, as the number of overseas visitors to Japan plummeted as a result of the epidemic.

In contrast, labor market data published Tuesday painted a grim picture for the economy.

Japan's seasonally adjusted job-to-applicant ratio hit its lowest level in two years and 11 months in February, the labor ministry announced on Tuesday.

The ratio, which indicates how many job openings there are for each job seeker, was 1.45, down by 0.04 points from January. A drop of more than 0.1 point in two months was last seen during the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009.

Demand for new employees is rapidly waning as business slows amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Active job openings by companies dropped by 2.2%, while the number of active job-seekers increased by 0.3% to hit 1.68 million. Active job openings for regular workers decreased by 0.02 points to 1.05.

New job openings, which often act as a gauge of future employment, decreased for all major industries compared with the previous month. Manufacturing showed the biggest decline at 24.7% while the service and entertainment sector dropped 18%.

The labor ministry said there was a technical reason for the decline as the questions given to companies were different than in January, suggesting that the ratio may have been 1.52 or 1.53 otherwise.

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