Japan's industrial output plunged 8.1 percent in November from the previous month.

Official figures released Friday showed the second consecutive month of declines in factory output.

Japan's ministry of economy, trade and industry said decreases in production of transportation equipment, general machinery and electronics parts contributed to the overall decline.

In the United States, desperate retailers are opening early Friday and offering discounts of as much as 70 percent in hopes of salvaging a disappointing holiday shopping season.

Even traditionally upscale stores, such as Nieman Marcus, are slashing prices.

U.S. stores depend on sales in the weeks leading up the Christmas holiday to make a profit for the year. But research firms say the financial crisis, and fears about job cuts, appear to have made a fundamental change in the way Americans shop.

Economists say Americans, who used to buy products they wanted, now go shopping with the intention of only buying products they really need.

The preliminary data supports those claims.

One research firm says customer visits to retail stores the weekend before the Christmas holiday dropped 24 percent compared to last year. ShopperTrak also says sales for the week before Christmas fell almost seven percent.

An industry trade group the International Council of Shopping Centers says sales could hit their lowest levels in 40 years, dropping by as much as two percent in November and December.

Comscore, a company that tracks Internet sales, says consumers also appear to be spending less money online.

Economists say they will not get a complete picture of retail sales until early January, when December's final sales figures are released.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.