Japan exports grow most in year, signaling steady recovery from recession

Sun Jan 25, 2015 9:19pm EST
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By Tetsushi Kajimoto

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's exports grew the most in a year in December, helped by a weak yen and a pick-up in overseas demand led by the United States, an encouraging sign for the recession-hit economy even as doubts persist about the strength of global consumption.

The 12.9 percent year-on-year rise in exports marked a fourth straight month of growth, supported by shipments of cars to the United States and of electronics parts to China, data by the Ministry of Finance (MOF) showed on Monday.

A recovery in exports, which has been a soft spot in the world's third-largest economy, could be a source of comfort for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is battling to re-kindle growth after an April sales tax hike drove Japan into a recession.

Still, with the exception of the United States, a largely gloomy global economic outlook has cast a cloud over external demand. The slump in oil prices to below $50 a barrel has also heightened global consumption and deflation concerns.

Imports rose less than expected, leaving Japan with a trade deficit for a record 30th month in a row.

"Exports have bottomed out but I doubt whether they will accelerate from now on due to growing uncertainty over the global economy," said Takeshi Minami, chief economist at Norinchukin Research Institute.

The MOF data showed exports to the United States rose 23.7 percent in the year to December, while those to China rose 4.3 percent.

Shipments to Asia, which account for more than half of Japanese shipments, grew 11.0 percent year-on-year in December. EU-bound exports rose 6.8 percent.   Continued...

A container ship is loaded at a port in Tokyo December 17, 2014.  REUTERS/Thomas Peter