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Japan's Economy Growing Faster Than Expected - 2003-09-12

The Japanese economy is growing faster than was previously thought and a Japanese baseball team could soon have an American owner.

The latest growth figures from Japan suggest the world's second largest economy is seeing some improvement after three recessions in a decade.

Revised data show that gross domestic product expanded 3.9 percent on an annualized basis in the April to June quarter, thanks to more capital spending by companies and strong exports to China and the United States. That is more than twice the rate originally reported.

But chief government spokesman Yasuo Fukuda remains cautious about a full-fledged economic recovery. He says capital investment has strengthened, but not consumer demand. He adds that it is too early to be fully optimistic.

Analysts also say that the up tick may be temporary and caution that Japan's economy is still troubled by structural weaknesses such as a banking sector overwhelmed with bad loans.

Japanese fast food chain Yoshinoya has begun an overseas expansion. According to the Nihon Keizei newspaper, it will soon set up outlets in Australia and Malaysia and will also expand in the United States, where it already has a presence.

Yoshinoya, which specializes in beef and rice dishes, plans to open 100 stores in the United States within three years. But it has suspended expansion plans in mainland China and Hong Kong due to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which first appeared in China last November.

Two U.S. investment companies are looking to buy one of Japan's most popular baseball teams and its related assets. Bloomberg News reports that Lehman Brothers and Ripplewood are vying for the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks team, its stadium and a nearby hotel in deal worth up to $430 million.

Daiei, one of Japan's largest retailers and owner of 60 percent of the Hawks, has been searching for ways to reduce its debts of close to $8 billion. However, local opposition to foreign ownership of the team has forced Daiei to postpone talks with potential bidders.