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    Japanese Oil Company Granted East China Sea Exploration Permit

    Thirty-five years after it filed an application for test drilling, Teikoku Oil has been granted permission for experimental exploration in a disputed region of the East China Sea. Japan's Trade Ministry denies the concession was finally approved to counter growing natural gas and oil exploration in the contested waters by China.

    Teikoku Oil originally applied for exploration rights in the area in 1969, but the Japanese government never acted on the request before Thursday, because of the unsettled demarcation of the sea boundary between the two countries. Beijing quickly criticized Thursday's move.

    The Japanese government has downgraded its industrial output data for May. Two weeks ago, the Trade Ministry's preliminary data showed a contraction of 2.3 percent for the month, but the ministry now says the actual decline was 2.8 percent. In the same month, Japan's current-account surplus fell 19.5 percent compared to May of 2004.

    The Finance Ministry blames the drop primarily on the increased value of imports due to rising oil prices. It says a slowdown in exports to the rest of Asia is another factor. Nevertheless, Bank of Japan Governor Toshihiko Fukui says it appears the economy is shaking off its doldrums, thanks to better-than-expected domestic demand. He also says strong corporate earnings are having a positive impact on household spending.

    But Shinsei Bank President Thierry Porte says he doesn't see any indications of Japan coming off its deflationary plateau. "We still don't have enough consumer demand…And we still don't have a significant amount of new investments, certainly not enough to drive things," he said.  "One sign that this could be ending is to see loan growth, and I can tell you from direct experience that we don't see loan growth."

    The government, in its monthly economic report, is keeping its overall assessment of the economy unchanged, and slightly upgrading its view of corporate sentiment.

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