Japanese exports rose more than forecast last month, providing support for an economy that has expanded for two straight quarters after a recession last year.
The value of overseas shipments rose 8 percent from a year earlier, the Ministry of Finance said yesterday, compared with a median estimate for a 6 percent increase.
Imports slid 4.2 percent, leaving a ￥53.4 billion (US$440 million) trade deficit. Japan’s exports exceeded imports in March for the first time in almost three years.
Strengthening large exporting firms has been one of the pillars of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic policies, as the yen’s fall boosts the competitiveness of Japanese products overseas.
The IMF predicted on Friday that weaker-than-expected growth in China and the US could trip Japan’s export-led recovery.
“Japan’s economy will be more robust this year, led by domestic consumption and external demand,” Nomura Holdings Inc economist Yoshitaka Suda said. “We think that the US economy will continue to recover moderately, helping to boost Japan’s exports.”
Shipments to the US rose 21 percent and those to China climbed 2.4 percent from a year earlier. Export volume was up 1.8 percent. A drop in oil prices contributed to the fall in imports, with the value of crude imports down almost 35 percent, even as volume rose 9.1 percent.
Motor vehicle exports were the biggest contributor to the increase, rising 7.2 percent. The value of shipments of cars to the US and the EU rose, while to China they fell almost 50 percent.
Import growth is expected to remain weak as the effects of cheaper energy prices spread to a wider range of items, said Suda, who sees the trade balance returning to a surplus this year after four years of deficits.
Japan’s economy expanded 0.6 percent from the previous quarter in the three months through March, beating forecasts, with net exports subtracting 0.2 percentage point from growth.
The IMF expects Japan’s economy to grow about 1 percent this year and 1.25 percent next year due to a recovery in exports and stronger domestic consumption.
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