Japan is expected to report next week that core consumer prices were unchanged in January from a year earlier, halting a brief rise in the previous two months, a Reuters poll showed, adding to doubts about policymakers' ability to reflate the economy.
Sluggish consumer demand and sliding fuel prices likely kept inflation subdued, while effects from the yen's weakening in the last few years have fallen off, analysts said.
The core consumer price index (CPI), which includes oil products but excludes volatile fresh food prices, likely registered no change last month after annual 0.1 percent rises in December and November, according to the poll of 22 analysts.
"Energy price falls such as gasoline and electricity are the main factor. But there is also a pause in price gains in foods and daily necessities due to weak consumer spending," Takumi Tsunoda, senior economist at Shinkin Central Bank said in the survey.
Koya Miyamae, senior economist at SMBC Nikko Securities, said that core consumer prices will likely fall in February and continue declining until around June even if currency and oil markets stay the same.
"Core CPI is expected to bottom out around summer but it may be difficult to return to plus territory within this year," he said.
Core consumer prices in Tokyo, available a month before the nationwide data, likely declined 0.2 percent in February from a year earlier, compared with a 0.1 percent slip in the year to January.
The inflation data will be released at 8:30 a.m. on Feb. 26 (2330 GMT Feb. 25).
The Bank of Japan now expects inflation to hit its 2 percent target around the first half of fiscal 2017.
Japan's economy contracted by an annualized 1.4 percent in October-December as private consumption and exports slumped.
While analysts expect a moderate recovery, stagnant wages, depressed consumer prices and faltering global growth have raised fresh doubts about Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cocktail of stimulus policies aimed at quashing years of deflation.
Even the central bank's shock adoption of negative interest rates late last month has hardly helped turn around business sentiment, as it failed to boost Tokyo stock prices or weaken the resurgent yen.