The severe slump in Japan’s exports eased slightly last month, offering a small sign that overseas demand may be headed toward recovery, even as the nation recorded its first annual trade deficit in 28 years.
Exports last month plunged by almost 46 percent from a year earlier, the finance ministry said yesterday, but the decline wasn’t as bad as February when exports slumped by about half. Moreover, month-on-month data show that exports managed a 2 percent rise — the first uptick in nearly a year.
Shipments to the country’s two biggest markets, the US and Asia, posted slower retreats, while those to the EU fell more steeply.
A rebound in exports is critical to reviving the world’s second-largest economy as well as the rest of Asia. Japan, which had relied heavily on foreign sales of its cars and gadgets to drive growth, has been dragged into its steepest recession since World War II by the unprecedented collapse in global demand.
Yesterday’s data supports what many economists are beginning to say: the eye of the storm may have passed.
“Trade data for March suggest that Japanese exports may have already hit bottom,” said Credit Suisse economist Hiromichi Shirakawa in Tokyo. “Sentiment among global manufacturers appears to have taken a turn for the better over the past few months.”
Shirakawa forecasts exports to rebound from next month, but based on the government’s latest trade data, they may turn up slightly sooner than previously projected, he said in a report.
Exports last month were down 45.6 percent from a year earlier to ¥4.18 trillion (US$42.4 billion), dragged particularly by continued lackluster demand for cars, electronics and machinery. Imports fell 36.7 percent to ¥4.17 trillion, resulting in an unexpected trade surplus of ¥11 billion.
For the business year through March 31, Japan recorded its first annual trade deficit in 28 years, the Japanese Ministry of Finance said.