Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Rise in oil prices adds to strain on Japanese firms

A spike in oil prices lifted Japanese wholesale inflation to its highest level in more than a year, but that hardly helped the central bank's case for a rate increase as rising costs threaten to strain profits at Japanese companies.

The price data suggests that consumer prices, too, will likely rise in coming months as firms pass on part of their rising costs, after a long period of tame advances.

But most economists said consumer prices are unlikely to accelerate sharply in view of limited wage growth.

"The uptrend in wholesale price inflation is strengthening," said Takehito Sato, an economist at Morgan Stanley. "That could worsen terms of trade of Japanese firms, especially at small and midsized ones."

The corporate goods price index, which tracks wholesale prices, rose 2.3 percent in November from a year earlier, the sharpest annual jump since September 2006.

Meanwhile, the number of Japanese corporate bankruptcies in November rose 11.2 percent from a year earlier to 1,213 cases, the eighth straight month of year-on-year gains, Tokyo Shoko Research reported.

Total debt climbed 11.5 percent to ¥492.6 billion, or $4.5 billion, with the majority coming from failures of small firms. Failures of construction firms jumped 29.6 percent from a year earlier to 359 cases after the introduction of stricter building regulations.

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