In a snapshot of Japan’s economy before the devastation and disruption brought by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, data yesterday showed its exports rose for the 15th straight month last month.
However, the data offered no indication of how the nation will fare as it comes to terms with the quake, the tsunami it triggered and the resulting nuclear crisis after the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant was crippled.
Exports last month rose 9.0 percent from a year earlier to ￥5.589 trillion (US$691 billion), due in part to strength in shipments of autos and steel, the Ministry of Finance said yesterday.
The result just missed the median forecast for a 9.7 percent rise in a poll of economists by Dow Jones Newswires, but improved upon January’s timid 1.4 percent increase. The trade surplus rose 2.5 percent to ￥654.1 billion.
The March 11 disasters have plunged Japan into what Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan has called its worst crisis since World War II.
The government on Wednesday said the cost of rebuilding Japan after the disaster could hit ￥25 trillion, more than double the amount spent after the Kobe earthquake and nearly four times more than for Hurricane Katrina.
The estimate does not account for wider issues such as how radiation from the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant crippled by the quake will affect food and water supply, amid a deepening food scare with global repercussions.
Economists expect the economy to contract again in the January-March quarter, plunging Japan into a temporary recession following a decline in October-December. Growth in fiscal 2011 is expected to be near zero.
Separately, New Zealand escaped recession in the final quarter of last year despite a destructive earthquake, but may be unable to avoid its economy shrinking this year following a second more damaging temblor last month.
The nation’s GDP grew 0.2 percent in the three months ended Dec. 31, Statistics New Zealand said yesterday. The economy contracted by 0.2 percent in the previous quarter. A recession is commonly defined as two consecutive quarters of decline.
The first quake hit the southern city of Christchurch in September. The same city was struck by the second more destructive quake on Feb. 22 and killed at least 166 people in one of New Zealand’s worst disasters.
Economists say the second quake will further reduce growth through the first half of this year. With 10 percent of the country’s economic production hit by the temblors, New Zealand could slip into recession this year.
Statistics New Zealand said a rebound in manufacturing during the last quarter of last year was mostly offset by falls in other sectors .
The economy grew 1.5 percent for the whole year, in a weak recovery from a recession that began in late 2008 and last five quarters.
New Zealand Finance Minister Bill English said the flat second half of last year reflected the first earthquake and the caution of consumers as they increased savings and paid down debt amid stuttering growth.
He said there were reasons to be optimistic about growth picking up later this year, including record high commodity prices for dairy and log exports, low interest rates and inflation, and a likely boost to construction coming from rebuilding after the second Christchurch earthquake.
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