Japan's economy expanded for 37 months through April 2012: gov't

The government tentatively acknowledged Wednesday that Japan's economy expanded for 37 months in a row through April 2012, weathering the devastating March 2011 earthquake-tsunami disaster and the ensuing nuclear crisis in Fukushima Prefecture.

A panel of economists and experts for the Cabinet Office also said the economy may have started to shrink since May last year as lingering concerns over Europe's sovereign debt crisis and the stronger yen weighed on exports, but may have bottomed out in November 2012.

Japan's economy has been expanding recently on the back of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's policies dubbed "Abenomics" centering on drastic monetary easing and large-scale public works projects, which have improved business and consumer sentiment.

The Japanese economy plunged after the 2008 global financial crisis, but began to pick up from April 2009 as a rebound in the world economy and the government's economic stimulus package helped boost consumption and exports.

The crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in northeastern Japan triggered power supply shortages and rapidly depressed economic activity at home. But reconstruction work and other policy steps bolstered the economy and the expansion lasted through April 2012, the panel said.

The 37-month expansion was the sixth-longest since World War II, but analysts say many people did not benefit from it given that wages did not grow during the period.

According to the panel's study, the economy started its previous expansionary phase in February 2002 before peaking in February 2008. The 73-month boom was the longest on record in the postwar period.