May 21, 2013 / 2:50 AM / 7 years ago

Japan April exports seen up but trade deficit to persist

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s exports are expected to have risen in April from a year earlier for a second straight month led by U.S.-bound shipments of cars and Asian demand for electronics parts in a sign a weak yen and global recovery are helping the export-reliant economy.

Newly produced cars ready for shipment are parked at a port in Yokohama, south of Tokyo May 21, 2013. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

However, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) data due on Wednesday is also likely to highlight the costs associated with a weak currency, with the country expected to log its 10th straight month of trade deficits in April, as a higher import bill offsets export gains.

The median forecast was for a 5.9 percent increase in exports in the year to April, which would follow a 1.1 percent rise in March, a Reuters poll of 25 economists showed.

The data could provide another encouraging signal for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s aggressive policies as he seeks to maintain high support in the run-up to an upper house election in July.

Abe’s policy mix of sweeping fiscal and monetary stimulus, dubbed “Abenomics”, has driven the yen to a 4-1/2 year low against the dollar and boosted Tokyo shares by 70 percent since November, prior to his election the following month.

However, the benefits of a weak yen has not been fully reflected in the trade sector. The drop in the currency has so far sharply raised fuel import costs and offset gains made from an uptick in export volumes, with many analysts predicting trade deficits to persist through this year.

The import bill has been bumped up in recent years as Japan’s fuel requirements grew substantially following the idling of nuclear plants in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

“Brisk sales of cars in the United States and shipments of electronics parts to Asia have pushed up Japanese exports, and I expect a weak yen to boost exports from around the summer,” said Ayumi Maekawa, a senior economist at Mizuho Research Institute.

“But a trade deficit is likely to persist at least this year given elevated costs of imports and a tepid recovery in the global economy due to uncertainty over China’s outlook and weakness in Europe.”

Wednesday’s data is expected to show imports rising 6.7 percent in the year to April, which would mark a sixth straight month of annual increase, led by gains in liquefied natural gas, according to the Reuters poll.

That would bring Japan’s trade balance into a deficit of 621.1 billion yen ($6.03 billion), marking a 10th straight month of deficits, the longest such run since 1979-1980 when the import bill was hit by surging oil prices, the poll showed.

Data last week showed that the world’s third-largest economy grew a faster-than-expected 0.9 percent in January-March from the previous quarter, as private consumption and a rebound in exports led a recovery from a slump last year.

Economists expect the recovery to firm up in the coming quarters backed by exports and private consumption.

But risks to the outlook remain, including uncertainty in the global economy, underlined recently by a string of weak data from the United States and China, Japan’s two biggest export markets.

The central bank is expected to leave monetary policy steady on Wednesday, having unleashed a massive burst of stimulus on April 4, pledging to inject about $1.4 trillion into the economy in less than two years to end nearly two decades of stagnation.

($1 = 102.9750 Japanese yen)

Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Shri Navaratnam

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