Japan's jobless rate flat at 4.1% in May

Japan's unemployment rate stayed at a relatively low 4.1 percent in May, the government said Friday, indicating the corporate sector's eagerness to hire more workers amid growing hopes for economic recovery.

An official at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications took a cautiously optimistic view of the job market, saying it has been picking up for the past few months, though the number of unemployed remains high.

The seasonally adjusted jobless rate slid to 4.1 percent in March, its lowest level since November 2008, two months after U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. went bankrupt, triggering the global financial crisis.

Looking ahead, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's economic policies dubbed "Abenomics," centering on drastic monetary easing and massive fiscal spending, are expected to help bolster the real economy, which could invigorate the labor market, analysts said.

The depreciation of the yen on the back of the Bank of Japan's aggressive credit easing may galvanize exports, a key engine of economic growth, and a possible recovery in corporate profits could prompt more firms to expand employment, they added.

"Given that the U.S. economy is growing, Japan's exports are likely to bounce back," said Takeshi Minami, chief economist at the Norinchukin Research Institute.

"With corporate performance improving, Japan's jobless rate may steadily hover below 4 percent from the end of this fiscal year," which will end in March, he said.

The yen dropped against the U.S. dollar by 23.4 percent from a year earlier in May, according to data released by the Finance Ministry.

A falling yen usually supports exports by making Japanese products cheaper abroad and increasing the value of overseas revenue in yen terms.

In January, Abe's government endorsed an economic stimulus package entailing 10.3 trillion yen in central government funds in an attempt to add around 2 percentage points to Japan's real gross domestic product and create at least 600,000 jobs.

The outlook for Japan's economy, however, has become cloudy as Japan's stock markets have widely fluctuated recently, hampering a pickup in the employment situation.

If Tokyo shares move downward, that could cause business sentiment to deteriorate and make companies reluctant to boost the number of new hires, economists said.

In May, the number of unemployed people fell 10,000 from April to 2.70 million in the reporting month, the ministry said in a preliminary report, while the number of people with jobs increased 20,000 to 63.03 million.

By industry, consumer-related services such as entertainment and the information and communications sector added jobs, but construction and education businesses reduced payrolls, the ministry said.

Separate data showed the country's job availability improved for the third straight month. The ratio of employment offers to seekers climbed to 0.90 in May from 0.89 in April, which means 90 positions were available for every 100 job seekers.