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Business Wrap
Biz / TechThursday, March 2

Business Wrap

Nikkei Extends Gains

Tokyo's Nikkei Average extended its rally after the record finish on Wall Street. Investors were encouraged by Trump's one-trillion-dollar investment plan. The stronger dollar also pushed up stocks. Our business reporter Giang Nguyen has more from the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

Expectations for a US rate-hike strengthened after comments from Federal Reserve policy makers. This fueled stocks and the dollar. In fact, Tokyo shares touched the highest level in more than a year.

Let's see where they closed this Thursday, March 2. The NIKKEI 225 added nearly 0.9 percent, finishing at 19,564. The broader TOPIX gained three quarters of a percent.

Turning to currency markets, the dollar touched a 2-week high above 114-yen with more Fed officials hawkish on a rate hike this month. Talk of a rate rise led to buying of insurers and banking shares. Dai-ichi Life Holdings, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group and Sumitomo Mitsui, all showed robust gains.

And Toshiba stocks gained 2.7 percent after the CEO of Hon Hai Precision Industry said he was "serious" about buying Toshiba's chip business. The sale could help Toshiba plug losses from its nuclear power business in the US.

So, it seems risk appetite is back, as US central bankers set the scene for a possible rate hike when they meet mid-month.

Asia-Pacific Region Markets

Many other markets in the Asia-Pacific region ended higher. Investors seemed to be more confident about Trump's economic stimulus plans.

Indonesia rose 0.8 percent.

And Sydney was up 1.3 percent.

Malaysian shares advanced more than a percent, as we see there. 1,715 for the closing number, to hit a 10-month high. That's after the central bank kept its interest rate unchanged, saying it expects growth momentum to continue.

But the Shanghai Composite declined, there, by half a percent. 3,230, the closing number today. Some investors took profits on gains made on expectations for economic stimulus ahead of the National People's Congress.

Fast, Cheap Money Transfers

Customers with dozens of Japanese banks will soon find it much easier to make money transfers. In coming months, they'll get access to a high-tech service that lets them send cash quickly and cheaply.

The 47-strong group includes Resona Bank, Bank of Yokohama and SBI Sumishin Net Bank.

The system will enable their customers to transfer funds almost immediately at less than 10 percent of the current cost.

It's based on the blockchain technology that's used in bitcoin transactions. The banks will roll out the initiative separately later in the year.

The service will allow customers to make international transfers to overseas financial institutions with similar systems. It will also eventually allow transfers between Japanese banks.

Report Threatens WTO Snub

US officials are threatening to take a more aggressive approach to international trade. They say they may ignore World Trade Organization rules that aren't in their favor.

Officials with the Trade Representative Office issued the warning in an annual trade policy report to Congress. They blame foreign government subsidies, intellectual property theft, and currency manipulation for distorting the global economy.

The report says the Trump Administration won't tolerate unfair trade practices that harm US interests. And it will aggressively defend US sovereignty over matters of trade policy.

US media warn that if the administration ignores WTO rulings, there'll be serious consequences. They say it could trigger retaliation by other countries, and threaten the international free trade system.

Preparing Economic Talks

Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso says he's in the process of arranging the first round of economic talks with US Vice President Mike Pence in mid-April. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Donald Trump agreed last month to launch a dialogue between their deputies to deepen economic relations.

Aso says Pence plans to visit Japan next month on an invitation by a private group.

The talks will focus on three areas, fiscal and financial policies, economic cooperation, and bilateral rules on trade and investment. But it's unclear how in-depth the talks will be, as the US administration is still in the process of filling government posts.

Aso said the Japanese side has drawn up a list of topics and will present them to the US side as early as this week.

Higher Sales for Department Stores

Japan's biggest department stores got a sales boost last Friday. That was the start of a nationwide campaign that encourages workers to knock off early on the last Friday of the month. The aim is for people to spend the free time shopping, dining, and traveling increasing consumption and give a boost to the economy.

The five department store chains all felt the effects. Executives reported higher sales for February 24th compared to the last Friday of February 2016. Takashimaya and Sogo & Seibu logged an increase of over 5 percent.

Sales at Isetan-Mitsukoshi were up 0.7 percent. Daimaru Matsuzakaya says average sales at its 15 outlets were up 17 percent. And Hankyu Hanshin marked an increase at its main store in Osaka.

The executives say customers crowded their food floors and restaurants. Cosmetics sales were also strong, due to promotional events. The campaign is called "Premium Friday." Workers at participating employers can head off at around 3 PM on the designated days.

Seeking Work-Life Balance

Japan's workforce is going through changing times. A tight labor market, coupled with new expectations from college students means businesses have to adapt and make new strategies for recruiting them. NHK World's Keiko Tomura went to the floors of a job fair to see the latest.

Hundreds of companies and tens of thousands of students have shown up for the start of an employment fair near Tokyo.

Japan is trying to deal with a labor shortage. That means companies are going all out to find new employees. Everyone here is trying to attract a new generation that's got different ideas about work-life balance.

"I think if I can satisfy my personal life, my motivation for working will also increase."

"I hope to keep working for a long time without any stress even after I give a birth."

The country has work issues. The traditional salaryman culture is known for long, hard work hours. Death from overwork is such a social issue in Japan it has its own term -- "karoshi". In a culture where jobs tend to be for life. today's young people want something different.

So here at the career fair, companies are trying to prove they have what hopeful employees are looking for. This drugstore chain started a new working style. It used to order employees to move to locations across Japan, now it's letting them stay at one location to hopefully put down roots.

This IT firm wants to show new employees won't be overworked, so it has a blueprint for a happy work life with benefits -- like parental leave. But there are concerns. Recruiters feel the lack of competition for jobs leads to less motivated employees. And it's up to companies to change that.

"Companies have to change working conditions by educating employees and encouraging them so that both sides will see some benefit."
Yasuaki Hirano / Agrex

This expert says those types of changes are necessary.

"There's an increase in companies being forced to change their strategies. They have to satisfy their employees to satisfy their customers."
Hitomi Okazaki / Recruit Career

A lot of promises are being made for the next generation of workers in Japan. But in a society not known for flexibility, the question is will these promises actually turn into change.