Friday, official data showed that consumer prices in Japan showed little or no change for the year to February, while company profits declined in China during the first two months of the year.

The Japanese government reported that its core consumer price index was unchanged in February from a year earlier, while the overall CPI was down 0.1% on-year.

The information triggered warnings from analysts that Japan faces deflation, but Finance Minister Kaoru Yosano reacted saying it was too early to conclude that deflation was already occurring.

Commenting on the latest consumer prices data from Japan, Azusa Kato, a BNP Paribas economist said as negative inflation rates are also projected for the U.S. and Eurozone through 2010, an age of global deflation in approaching.

Retail sales in Japan plummeted by 5.8% in February when compared to a year earlier, according to government data. The decline was the sharpest in seven years and the fifth straight month of lower retail sales.

The National Bureau of Statistics said Chinese industrial firms' profit declined 37.3% on a yearly basis in the first two months of the year to 219.1 billion yuan. During the same period of previous year, profits were up 16.5%.

South Korea's gross domestic product or GDP declined a revised 5.1% sequentially in the fourth quarter, reversing a 0.2% rise in third quarter, a report by the Bank of Korea showed. In January, the GDP was reported to have fallen 5.6% in the fourth quarter. For the whole of 2008, the GDP grew 2.2%, slower than a 2.5% rise estimated earlier.

In other news, the World Bank agreed on Thursday to provide US$500 million interest-free loan to Pakistan to help the country to address economic crisis.

Visitor arrivals into Singapore fell 15.2% year-on-year in February to 689,000, a report by the Singapore Tourism Board said.

Taiwan's Council for Economic Planning and Development said in a report that business cyclical indicators showed a continuous slowdown in economic conditions. The composite leading index stood at 84.8 in February, down 0.5% from the previous month. Its annualized six-month rate of change rose 1.8 point to minus 22.5%, following fifteenth consecutive monthly declines.

Macau's Statistics and Census Service or DSEC announced that the jobless rate stood at 3.6% in the December to February period, up from 3.4% in the November to January period.

Growth in India's six core-infrastructure industries for February this year slowed down to 2.2% from 7.0% in the same month last year, due to poor performance by all sectors, except crude oil, official data revealed.

Thailand's international reserves stood at US$ 116.99 billion as on March 20, up from US$ 114.19 billion as on March 13, the Bank of Thailand said.

Meanwhile, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand backed China's call for a global reserve currency, replacing the U.S. dollar, Bloomberg reported.

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