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UPDATE 2-Japan's inflation tops BOJ target for 2nd month in test of monetary stance

·3 min read

* May nationwide core CPI up 2.1%, matching f'cast

* Core-core CPI up 0.8% in sign of broadening price rises

* Food prices, excluding fresh food, up at fastest pace since 2015

* Business-to-business service prices up 1.8% yr/yr in May (Adds details on CPI, analyst quote, service price data)

By Kantaro Komiya and Leika Kihara

TOKYO, June 24 (Reuters) - Japan's annual core consumer inflation topped the central bank's target for a second straight month in May, data showed on Friday, highlighting the intensifying pressure on the country's fragile economy from soaring global raw material costs.

The data challenges the Bank of Japan's view that the recent rise in prices is temporary, and does not warrant withdrawing monetary stimulus.

But with wage growth subdued, many analysts expect the BOJ to remain firmly focussed on stimulating a sluggish economy rather than fight inflation with interest rate hikes.

The nationwide core consumer price index (CPI), which excludes volatile fresh food but includes fuel costs, rose 2.1% in May from a year earlier, data showed, matching a median market forecast.

It stayed above the BOJ's 2% target for a second straight month, following a 2.1% rise in April which was the fastest pace of increase in seven years.

The core-core CPI, which strips away both volatile food and fuel costs, was up 0.8% in May from a year earlier after climbing by the same pace in April.

"Food prices are rising quite significantly even as wage growth remains slow. This may hurt consumption and make retailers hesitant of further passing on costs to consumers," said Takumi Tsunoda, senior economist at Shinkin Central Bank Research Institute.

"I don't think core consumer inflation will hit 3% unless a broader range of daily goods and services prices rise."

While soaring fuel costs remained the key driver of the rise in CPI, the pace of year-on-year increase in energy prices slowed to 17.1% in May from 19.1% in April.

But prices of food excluding volatile vegetable, meat and fish rose 2.7% in May, marking the fastest growth since 2015.

In a glimmer of hope, separate data released by the BOJ on Friday showed the price companies pay each other for services rose 1.8% in May year-on-year.

The increase, which was the fastest annual pace since 2020, partly reflected a rebound in demand for services as COVID-19 infection numbers fell, the data showed.

Rising fuel and food prices, blamed on Russia's invasion of Ukraine and a weak yen that inflates the cost of imports, are expected to keep Japan's core consumer inflation above the BOJ's 2% target for most of this year, analysts say.

But there is little to cheer for the BOJ, which views such cost-push inflation as temporary and a risk to consumption, with households facing rising living costs and slow wage growth.

BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda has repeatedly said the central bank will keep monetary policy ultra-loose until robust domestic demand and strong wage growth become key drivers of inflation. (Reporting by Kantaro Komiya and Leika Kihara; editing by Richard Pullin & Shri Navaratnam)