(For more stories on the Japanese economy, click [ID:nECONJP])
* Government stimulus boosts sales of autos, electronics
* Gasoline price rises push up sales value
* Sales could fall sharply after stimulus wears off – analyst (Adds more analyst quotes, details)
By Rie Ishiguro
TOKYO, March 29 (Reuters) – Japanese retail sales jumped the most in 13 years in the year to February as government incentives prompted shoppers to open their wallets, but some analysts cautioned about the outlook as such stimulus measures taper off.
Retail sales rose 4.2 percent from a year earlier, more than double a median market forecast for a 1.8 percent gain, government data showed on Monday.
“Given the stagnant income situation, this sizeable rise in retail sales is too good to be true,” said Seiji Shiraishi, chief economist at HSBC Securities in Tokyo.
“Some stimulus measures will continue until April and others will last until September. After these incentives expire, there should be a big negative rebound in retail sales.”
February’s jump came as consumers continued to spend on low-emission automobiles and electronics goods that are backed by government subsidies, while recent rises in gasoline prices gave an additional push to the overall value.
Economists also say the data is not very reliable because it focuses on department stores and other big retailers, which consumers have increasingly been shunning in recent years in favour of specialty retailers and on-line shopping.
“The income and employment situation is severe, and we need to watch their impact on sales,” said an official at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.
Japan’s jobless rate has recovered to 4.9 percent after hitting a record high last summer. But analysts say the improvement in the job market will slow, with companies still far from operating at full capacity and reluctant to hire new workers.
While consumer spending is faring better than previously thought, analysts expect the fading impact of stimulus measures on domestic demand will curb overall economic growth early this year. [ID:nTOE62802P] (Editing by Hugh Lawson and Chris Gallagher)