Japanese retail sales were effectively flat in February as consumers cut back on food and durable goods after employers offered the lowest spring wage increases in four years.
Retail sales rose 0.1 percent in February from a year ago, well below the median estimate for a 0.5 percent annual increase, and much less than year-on-year growth of 1.0 percent in January.
The anemic figures raise further doubt about the strength of private consumption, emphasizing how difficult it will be for Japan's economy to generate sustained wage growth and price inflation, as envisaged in the government's "Abenomics" policies.
"I was expecting consumption to pick up in January-March, but so far things look weak," said Hidenobu Tokuda, senior economist at Mizuho Research Institute.
"This reflects concerns that wages this year won't rise as fast as last year. Some people are also feeling the pinch from higher energy prices."