In a sign that Japan has ended a long period of deflation, consumer prices rose slightly last month. However, the government says unemployment climbed to 4.6 percent.
The Japanese government said consumer prices increased last month for the first time in more than two years. In November, consumer prices rose by 0.1 percent, which indicates Japan is recovering from years of deflation.
It has also set the stage for a debate among policy makers on whether the central bank should continue the monetary measures that were implemented to end nearly seven years of falling consumer prices.
The Bank of Japan says it will avoid doing anything for the next few months to make sure consumer prices do not resume falling. Economists mainly attribute the gain to Japanese consumers spending more due to rising salaries and winter bonuses.
Japan's job market remained a bit weak in November, as unemployment rose for the second straight month to 4.6 percent. It was 4.5percent in October.
Labor Ministry officials blamed the rise in unemployment on women who left their jobs to search for better ones, since the economy has improved. They said the rise will be temporary and does not indicate a weaker economy.
Merger & Sales
Retailing giant Seven & I Holdings Company will purchase its competitor, Japan's Millennium Retailing Company, for about $1.7 billion. The deal will create Japan's largest retailer and the world's fifth largest.
Seven & I - which owns 7-11 convenience stores, Ito-Yokado supermarkets and the Denny's restaurant chain - now will control Millennium's Seibu and Sogo department stores.
Shigeaki Wada, the president of Millennium, says the merger is a good sign for the Japanese economy. "Our well-respected department stores have merged with convenience stores chains," he said, "and this will create a powerful synergy and a new era of strategic management that will innovate the market."
The merger will help Seven & I compete against its rival, Wal-Mart, the world's biggest retailer. Wal-Mart, a U.S. company, is becoming more active in Japan since it purchased a 53 percent stake in the supermarket chain Seiyu.
Department store sales increased by 3.2 percent in November, the third straight month sales went up. It was the biggest gain since 1998. Winter clothing and year-end gifts registered the highest sales.