© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A woman pays money as she buys fruits outside a vegetable store at the Ameyoko shopping district in Tokyo, Japan January 27, 2016. REUTERS/Yuya Shino

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s core consumer inflation likely slowed sharply in February from a 41-year high in the previous month, a Reuters poll of 20 economists showed, as government subsidies for gas and electricity bills cushion rising living costs.

The core consumer price index (CPI), which excludes volatile fresh food but includes oil products, likely rose 3.1% year-on-year in February, the poll showed.

That followed a 4.2% rise seen in January, which was the highest reading since December 1981 when the Middle East crisis pushed Japan’s inflation to 4%. The data is due out at 8:30 am on March 24 (2330 GMT March 23).

Still, the wave of price hikes is seen spreading from energy and food to daily consumables and paper products, analysts say, raising doubts about the Bank of Japan’s view that recent cost-push inflation will prove temporary, analysts say.

Persistent price hikes will likely keep the central bank under pressure to phase out its massive monetary stimulus, they say.

“Railway charges are also set to rise from March to April. As such, price hikes will likely continue well into the new fiscal year,” Shinkin Central Bank economists wrote in a note.

BOJ policymakers have repeatedly underscored the need to maintain ultra-loose policy until inflation is seen sustainably hitting their 2% target along with solid wage growth.

Speculation linger among market players that the BOJ will phase out or ditch its yield curve control (YCC) policy under incoming Governor Kazuo Ueda, who succeeds incumbent Haruhiko Kuroda in April.

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