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Week ahead: Japan data dump, rate decision loom

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The spotlight in Asia this week falls on Japan, where a raft of data releases and a central bank decision could provide clarity on the direction of the world's third largest economy.

Central bank meetings in Taiwan and New Zealand are also likely to be watched by investors in the region, as will Taiwan and the Philippines' first quarter gross domestic product (GDP) data.

Starting with Japan, retail sales data out is due on Tuesday, followed by industrial production and the Bank of Japan's monetary policy decision on Thursday and inflation on Friday.

"Japan's March data dump is expected to show the economy is slowly emerging from recession as stronger export demand lifts industrial production," Moody's Analytics wrote in a note.

"Retail sales and household expenditure have yet to fully recover following last year's consumption tax hike, as inflation and a lack of wage growth hurt purchasing power," it said.

Japan's retail sales likely fell 6.2 percent on-year in March, after slipping 1.8 percent in February, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BoFAML).

Industrial production is expected to have fallen 1 percent on-month in March, compared with a 3.1 percent decline in the previous month, BoFAML said.

The nationwide consumer price index (CPI), meantime, is forecast to have risen 2 percent on-year in March after rising 2 percent in February, according to BoFAML. Stripping out the effect of last year's sales tax hike, CPI was likely flat from a year ago.

Central bank watch

While the Bank of Japan's monetary policy meetings prove uneventful more often than not, the upcoming one is more important than usual, say economists.

The central bank is expected to hold off on expanding monetary stimulus, but board members are likely to lower their near-term growth and inflation forecasts in a semiannual outlook report due at a rate review, according to J.P.Morgan.

Is Japan's inflation actually on the way up?

Central banks in Thailand and New Zealand are also forecast to maintain their monetary settings, keeping their powder dry as they await more information on growth and inflation.

Discussing the Reserve Bank of New Zealand's next steps, RBC Capital Markets said: "We expect a [rate] cut in June and therefore look to the coming review to lay some groundwork for this eventuality."

How fast is Asia growing?

GDP reports from Philippines and Taiwan, due out on Monday and Wednesday, respectively, will shed some light on the economic health of the region.

The Philippines economy – one of the strongest performing in Asia – likely grew 7.3 percent on-year in the first quarter, driven by robust domestic demand, according to Moody's Analytics.

Meanwhile, Taiwan's export-driven economy is forecast to have expanded 3.8 percent, thanks to improved U.S. tech demand, which has helped to offset a slowdown in Chinese demand.