Japan April retail sales rise 5 per cent

A shop clerk (second, right) carrying a box of shoes under sale signboards at a shoes retail store at a shopping district in Tokyo, Japan, on April 28, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A shop clerk (second, right) carrying a box of shoes under sale signboards at a shoes retail store at a shopping district in Tokyo, Japan, on April 28, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japanese retail sales rose 5.0 per cent in April from a year earlier, less than a median market forecast for a 5.4 per cent increase, government data showed on Thursday.

The positive data adds to signs of improvement in consumer confidence and eases pressure on the Bank of Japan to expand its massive stimulus programme in the near-term horizon.

The increase fell slightly short of a 5.4 per cent rise forecast in a Reuters poll and followed a 9.7 per cent drop in March. The year-on-year numbers have been distorted by a surge in consumption leading up to last April's sales tax hike and a subsequent downturn after the higher levy nudged the economy into mild recession last year.

Still, the pickup in retail sales is a welcome sign for policymakers, who hope that rising wages and the low cost of gasoline will boost households' disposable income and prompt them to spend more.

The BOJ revised up its assessment of the economy last week on signs of pickup in private consumption, signalling that it has no plan to expand stimulus any time soon.

In April last year, the government increased the sales tax to 8 per cent from 5 per cent. The move took a severe hit on private consumption and nudged the economy into recession.