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Japan final Feb manufacturing growth eases but hiring at 11-year high-PMI

TOKYO, March 1 (Reuters) - Japanese manufacturing activity

expanded at a slightly slower but still solid pace in

February, revised data showed on Thursday, as the stronger yen weighed on new export orders.

However, hiring rose at the fastest pace in 11 years as companies remain optimistic about future demand.

The final Markit/Nikkei Japan Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) was a seasonally adjusted 54.1, versus a preliminary 54.0 and a final 54.8 in January.

The index remained above the 50 threshold that separates expansion from contraction for the 18th consecutive month, but declined for the first time in four months.

"The trend of building momentum in the Japanese manufacturing sector came to an end in the latest PMI survey period," said Joe Hayes, economist at IHS Markit, which compiles the survey.

"Output growth slowed for the first time since July 2017, while both domestic and foreign demand rose to lesser extents."

Export order growth ebbed to slowest pace in three months but remained solid overall after hitting a 92-month high in January.

The yen has risen around 5 percent versus the dollar so far this year, raising worries among policymakers and comanies that it could reduce the country's export competitiveness, while increasing deflationary pressure by reducing import prices.

Input costs continued to rise sharply, particularly for oil-related products, but firms were able to pass on some of the higher cost burden to their customers.

In one positive sign, the PMI showed job creation accelerated to an 11-year high because companies expect output to grow more in the future.

Japan's economy has grown for eight straight quarters, the longest continuous expansion since a 12-quarter stretch between April-June 1986 and January-March 1989 around the height of Japan's notorious economic bubble.

Many economists expect growth to continue as domestic demand strengthens, but further appreciation in the yen could pose a risk to prospects for continued expansion. (Reporting by Stanley White; Editing by Kim Coghill)