Japan exports hold up on yen’s slide

| Monday, December 19, 2016, 12:05 pm

Japan posted its third consecutive trade surplus Monday as November exports held up, boosted by a sharp slide in the yen.

The upbeat official data came less than a week after a closely watched Bank of Japan survey showed confidence among some of the country’s biggest firms rebounded for the first time in over a year.

Monday’s export data showed a pickup in demand for Japan-made auto parts, although shipments of vehicles and steel fell. While total shipments overseas inched down 0.4 percent from a year ago, it was the smallest fall since September last year.

Traders have been moving out of the yen and into the dollar — a plus for Japan’s exporters — after the Federal Reserve hiked interest rates and on expectations US President-elect Donald Trump’s plans to ramp up infrastructure spending and cut taxes will fan inflation.

“Exports are on the recovery track,” said Hideaki Kikuchi, economist at Japan Research Institute. “But the impact of falling crude oil prices on imports is also fading so that will limit further growth in Japan’s trade surplus.”

Imports of crude oil and medical products were down significantly last month, according to the official data, which showed overall imports were down 8.8 percent.

The finance ministry said Japan had a surplus of 152.5 billion yen ($1.29 billion) in November, reversing a year-earlier deficit but smaller than the 227.4 billion yen forecast in a Bloomberg News survey.

“Net exports were the main driver of GDP growth last quarter, and today’s data suggest that they continued to support the recovery in Q4,” research house Capital Economics said in a commentary.

Earlier this month, the government downgraded its estimate for third-quarter growth to 0.3 percent, from an initial 0.5 percent reading. “Looking ahead though, we expect the trade surplus to narrow.”