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Japan's economy grows at 0.5 percent annual pace in Oct-Dec

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TOKYO (AP) -- Japan's economy grew at a slower than expected 0.5 percent annual pace in the October-December quarter, as strong exports failed to fully compensate for relatively weak domestic demand.

The preliminary data released Wednesday show Japan has managed eighth straight quarters of growth, the longest expansion since the financial bubble of the late 1980s.

But the figures were well below analysts' forecasts of 0.9 percent annual growth or higher.

Growth in the previous quarter was revised down to 2.2 percent from 2.5 percent.

Housing investment weakened although overall consumer spending, which accounts for the lion's share of activity, was higher.

The economy grew 0.1 percent in quarterly terms. The lackluster performance reflects the difficulty of stimulating more investment and spending as Japan's population ages and declines.

The growth spurt that made Japan an economic powerhouse by the late 1980s ended in the collapse of a massive bubble, bringing on years of slower growth and restructuring of industries.

Japan's central bank has been infusing trillions of yen (hundreds of billions of dollars) of cash into the economy through recession-fighting asset purchases, mostly of government bonds, to counter deflation. That has encouraged investment by keeping the cost of borrowing ultra low - its key interest rate remains at minus 0.1 percent.

A rebound in exports thanks to stronger growth in China, the U.S. and other major economies has helped Japan's export manufacturers, keeping the jobless rate below 3 percent. But wage hikes have lagged expectations, limiting the appetite of Japanese households and businesses to step up their spending.

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