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Japan's Economy Receives Mixed Assessment

Japan's government says the country's economic outlook remains unchanged while the rising cost of crude oil sends corporate goods prices higher. And a Japanese company announces an alarm that will warn of an imminent earthquake.

While downgrading the outlook for business sentiment because of rising commodity prices, the Japanese government's monthly economic report does contain some good news. It says the outlook for personal spending is better due to higher wages.

The Cabinet Office says the net result, however, is to leave its previous assessment unchanged: namely that Japan's economy is recovering at a moderate pace but there are some weak areas.

The latest report does sound a note of caution, warning that crude oil prices could affect the pace of Japan's economic recovery.

The Bank of Japan says prices for domestic corporate goods rose 1.4 percent in March from the same month last year, the thirteenth straight month of gains for the index. The biggest factor for the price rises was, not surprisingly, the high cost of crude oil. The central bank predicts the index will continue to gradually increase, reflecting gains in commodity prices here and abroad.

Israel wants Japan to consider negotiating a free-trade agreement. Israeli Trade Minister Ehud Olmert says he also supports the creation of an Israeli-Japanese research and development fund.

"What I am going to propose to the [Japanese] government is to embark on a joint action of research and development of scientific cooperation on different areas that will provide the necessary basis for cooperation on a grand scale for both Israel and Japan," he said.

Mr. Olmert, who is also deputy prime minister, led a delegation of Israeli managers and venture capitalists to Japan. The businessmen attended the first trade fair here to showcase Israeli technology, which attracted representatives from nearly five hundred Japanese companies.

A Japanese auto-parts maker has announced plans to sell an earthquake alarm system for homes. The gadget also would automatically shut off the gas and switch on radios and televisions.

Apexera says the device would receive data over the Internet from the meteorological agency's nationwide quake sensors. Those sensors detect the initial compression waves that travel faster than the more destructive secondary waves.