Japan’s exports post first rise in two years

TOKYO • Japan’s exports rose last month for the first time in two years on the back of shipments to China, government data showed, offering a glimmer of hope for policymakers counting on an export-led recovery amid a resurgence of the coronavirus.

A recovery in exports may ease the risk of a double-dip recession, while the Bank of Japan upgraded its growth forecast for the next fiscal year at its rate review yesterday. The central bank stood pat on policy.

Still, the pace of recovery in Japan’s shipments paled in comparison with neighbouring export hubs such as China, Taiwan and South Korea, all of which saw double-digit growth led by global demand for chip and technology products.

Analysts also expect the recovery in Japanese shipments to slow down in the coming months as they approach pre-pandemic levels, and with virus infections still surging in Europe and elsewhere.

Ministry of Finance data out yesterday showed that Japan’s exports rose 2 per cent last month from a year earlier, slightly below a 2.4 per cent increase expected by economists in a Reuters poll, but up from a 4.2 per cent decline in the previous month. It marked the first annual increase since November 2018.

By region, exports to China – Japan’s largest trading partner – grew 10.2 per cent in the year to last month, led by shipments of plastic, non-ferrous metals and other raw materials.

Shipments to the United States – a key market for Japanese goods such as cars and electronics – dropped 0.7 per cent year on year last month, dragged down by airplanes and chipmaking equipment. Exports to Asia, which account for more than half of Japanese shipments, advanced 6.1 per cent. Shipments to the European Union declined 1.6 per cent.

Imports fell 11.6 per cent in the year to last month, roughly in line with the median estimate, bringing a trade surplus of 751 billion yen (S$9.6 billion).