Most polled experts believe Japan's economy shrank last quarter

A group of private economists believe that Japan's economy shrank in the January-to-March quarter.

The country's GDP figures will be released by the government on Thursday.

Observers will be paying close attention to consumer spending, which accounts for more than half of Japan's GDP.

The Japan Center for Economic Research aggregated GDP outlooks from 38 economists.

Their average estimate is annualized growth of minus 1.17 percent in inflation-adjusted terms when compared to the previous three months.

Most of the experts believe that disruptions in Japan's auto industry dragged down the economy's growth.

Some carmakers suspended production and shipments in the quarter after failing to meet government-safety certificate standards.

They believe household consumption grew an average of minus 0.15 percent. They think price rises discouraged shoppers from splashing out on home electronics and food products.

Consumer spending has been in minus figures for three consecutive quarters.

The economists are split on the true strength of these expenditures.

Goto Shumpei is a researcher at the Japan Research Institute. He says consumers remained thrifty even without a drop in automobile sales. He sees stagnant levels of consumer spending, mainly in the category of home electronics.

Kanda Keiji is a senior economist at Daiwa Institute of Research. He believes that consumers spent more in the quarter.

Kanda cites gradual improvements in people's income environment. He sees strong spending on food, travel and leisure.