Japan's March jobless rate down to lowest level in 4 years

Japan's unemployment rate fell to 4.1 percent in March, its lowest level since November 2008, the government said Tuesday, as some companies increased female employment with hopes for economic recovery boosting business confidence.

The figure was in line with expectations by economists at private think tanks that the country's jobless rate would improve for the first time in two months from 4.3 percent in February.

An official of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, however, said the government will watch developments in the labor market as the number of male employed workers decreased in the reporting month.

Separate data showed Japan's job availability improved, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. The ratio of employment offers to seekers climbed to 0.86 in March from 0.85 in February, which means 86 positions were available for every 100 job seekers.

Some analysts said Tuesday's data suggest Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's economic policies aimed at bolstering domestic demand and conquering Japan's nearly two-decade-long deflation have gradually rippled through the real economy.

As the yen is likely to remain on a weak note and the global economy could rebound, "exports are expected to bounce back, which would improve employment at home further," said Masahiko Hashimoto, an economist at Daiwa Institute of Research.

In March, the number of women with jobs increased 480,000 to 26.68 million, while that of employed men fell 170,000 to 35.78 million, the internal affairs ministry said.

For fiscal 2012, which ended March 31, the unemployment rate dropped to 4.3 percent from the previous year's 4.5 percent.

The job-offers-to-seekers ratio for the fiscal year was at 0.82, up from 0.68, improving for the third straight year.

The data released by the internal affairs ministry also showed Japan's consumption was robust last month, as higher stock prices perked up consumer sentiment.

Average Japanese monthly household spending rose a price-adjusted 5.2 percent in March from a year earlier to 316,166 yen, the ministry said.

Household spending figures are a key indicator of private consumption, which accounts for about 60 percent of Japanese gross domestic product.

The country's consumer spending "has been picking up," another official of the internal affairs ministry said.

Aiming to jack up the nation's deflation-beset economy, the government led by Abe's Liberal Democratic Party is trying to promote what he calls the "three arrows" -- bolder monetary easing, massive fiscal spending and growth strategies.

On the back of speculation that the Bank of Japan will seek to make financial conditions more accommodative, the yen has fallen steeply against its major counterparts including the U.S. dollar and the euro.

The Finance Ministry said earlier April that the Japanese currency weakened against the U.S. dollar by 16.1 percent on an average basis in March from a year earlier.

Share prices rose sharply during the same period. In March, the 225-issue Nikkei Stock Average rallied to the level it held before the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in September 2008.

A falling yen usually supports exports by making Japanese companies' products cheaper abroad and increases the value of overseas revenue in yen terms, though it lifts import prices.

Japan's economy grew at an annualized rate of 0.2 percent during the final three months of last year in inflation-adjusted terms, marking the first expansion in three quarters.