Japan export growth slows, maintains policy pressure on Abe

Tue Dec 16, 2014 11:13pm EST
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By Tetsushi Kajimoto

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's exports grew for a third straight month in November from a year earlier, but much more slowly than expected and despite a sharp fall in the yen, maintaining economic policy pressure on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe days after his ruling coalition's big election win.

The 4.9 percent rise in exports was much weaker than a 7.0 percent gain seen by economists in a Reuters poll, slowing from a 9.6 percent gain in October, Ministry of Finance data showed.

Weakness in exports could compound April's sales tax rise which pushed the economy into a recessionary second quarter of contraction through September.

Abe's ruling coalition won snap elections at the weekend, giving the prime minister a fresh mandate to implement his "Abenomics" reform of monetary and fiscal stimulus, combined with structural reform.

Falling oil prices add to the murky outlook, prompting a warning from a top government spokesman about a possible risk aversion spreading to financial markets.

Analysts say the slowdown followed a jump in October exports from one-off factors such as the delivery of ships to Singapore, arguing that exports should remain steady - backed by a U.S. recovery that helps boost output in Asia and Japan.

"Exports are still seesawing," said Takeshi Minami, chief economist at Norinchukin Research Institute. "Falling oil prices will benefit importing nations, but we should also be aware of the fact that they stem from anxiety over the global outlook."

The data followed the Bank of Japan's key tankan survey, which showed business confidence barely improved in the fourth quarter, suggesting a slow climb out of recession despite gains in share prices and a steep fall in the yen.   Continued...

Workers are seen in a container area at a port in Tokyo September 18, 2014. REUTERS/Toru Hanai