Accessibility links

Japan's Unemployment Rate Rises, Chevron Discovers Offshore Gas Deposits in Vietnam

Japan's jobless rate has risen for the first time in five months, and Chevron Corporation has discovered large offshore natural gas deposits in Vietnam. Naomi Martig in Hong Kong has more on these and other business stories from the region.

Japan's unemployment rate has risen for the first time in five months, partly because exports to the United States fell. Japanese officials say the jobless rate rose to 3.9 percent in February, up from the 3.8 percent recorded the previous month.

Analysts say the increase is not worrisome, but that it does indicate that companies are concerned about hiring workers as they deal with rising costs and slower U.S. consumer spending.

David Mann is chief currency strategist at Standard Chartered Bank in Hong Kong. He says Japan and other areas of Asia are likely to feel a bit of the pinch from slower U.S. consumer growth. But he says the region's economies should be able to hold steady for the time being while the U.S. tries to revive growth.

"So what we're seeing is a bit of a divergence economics-wise where the data in the U.S. continues to melt down, meanwhile the data elsewhere is holding up relatively okay," he said. "It's starting to come off but nothing that is worrying policy makers too much."

Core consumer prices in Japan also rose one percent in February from a year earlier, the quickest pace since March 1998.

Elsewhere in the region, Chevron Corporation says it has found at least 142 billion cubic meters of natural gas in the Malay Basin off Vietnam's southwestern coast. Chevron says the gas was discovered following a three-month drilling program that ended in mid-March.

It says it is negotiating with its partner, PetroVietnam, on when production from the field will begin. But Chevron says it expects to produce about 14 million cubic meters of gas a day within five years of starting up. That would be worth about five million dollars a day at current prices.

And in Hong Kong, conglomerate Hutchinson Whampoa reported a 53 percent increase in net profit, as the sale of its Indian mobile phone operations offset losses in other parts of its mobile business. Hutchinson said net profit for 2007 stood at $3.9 billion.

Cheung Kong Holdings, which controls nearly half of Hutchison, also saw earnings rise 53 percent in 2007, to $3.5 billion. The increase was largely the result of Hutchison's performance and from gains in investment income.

Hutchison was one of the first in the world to introduce 3G mobile services, but has struggled to earn a profit from the venture.