TOKYO – Business sentiment among workers with jobs sensitive to economic trends in Japan rose in November to the highest level in eight years as confidence among eateries climbed to a record high after the latest coronavirus state of emergency was lifted, government data showed Wednesday.
The diffusion index of confidence in current conditions compared with three months earlier among “economy watchers,” such as taxi drivers and restaurant staff, edged up 0.8 point from October to 56.3, up for the third straight month and matching the level logged in November 2013, according to the Cabinet Office.
The reading compared with a gain of 13.4 points in October, the biggest monthly improvement since June last year, as a months-long state of emergency under which people were requested to stay at home and restaurants to close early was fully lifted on Oct. 1.
A reading above 50 indicates that more respondents feel conditions are improving rather than worsening. The office polled 2,050 workers from Nov. 25 to 30, of whom 1,828, or 89.2 percent, responded.
The office upgraded its assessment of the economy for the third consecutive month, saying, “The economy is picking up though concerns remain over the coronavirus pandemic.”
In the previous month, the office said the economy was recovering “gradually.”
Sentiment among eateries improved for the third month in a row, with the diffusion index hitting 68.2, up 3.1 points and marking the highest level since comparable data became available in 2002.
Confidence among retailers fell 0.4 point to 53.7, down for the first time in three months, as some people apparently went out to eat rather than shop in supermarkets and cook at home, a Cabinet Office official said, while noting the figure was still above the boom-or-bust line.
Among optimistic workers, a shopping mall staffer in the Hokuriku region in central Japan said, “Sales of clothing are growing as opportunities for going out and participating in events are increasing. Customers are returning to restaurants, too.”
In the Shikoku region in western Japan, a travel agency worker said new bookings were increasing after the removal of the state of emergency.
But some workers were wary of recent rises in raw material costs and uncertainties about the Omicron coronavirus variant.
“There are signs the new coronavirus variant is spreading. We have bleak business prospects as we expect price hikes for foodstuffs, gas and electricity rates to dampen the economy,” said a clothing store worker in the north of the Kanto region including Tokyo.
Looking ahead, the diffusion index gauging business sentiment in the coming months fell 4.1 points from the previous month to 53.4, down for the first time in three months.