TOKYO • Japan’s exports unexpectedly fell in September — the first drop in almost two years — as natural disasters disrupted economic activity, while higher energy prices continued to feed gains in imports.
While one-off events make it difficult to assess the impact of the US-China trade dispute, Japanese export growth has been slowing this year following double digit expansion in 2017. The decline in shipments adds to the likelihood of Japan’s economic expansion weakening this quarter after a surge in the three months through June.
Typhoon Jebi in September closed a major airport that is the departure point for around 7% of shipments from the manufacturing heartland around Osaka. An earthquake in Hokkaido cut power to the entire island in Japan’s north, disrupting supply chains.
The value of exports fell 1.2% in September from a year earlier, versus a forecast 2.1% gain, data from the Finance Ministry showed yesterday.
Imports increased 7%, compared to estimates for a rise of 13.7%, maintaining gains that have only been interrupted once since the start of 2017. The trade balance was a surplus of ¥139.6 billion (RM4.99 billion), defying expectations for a deficit of ¥45.1 billion.
Exports to China, Japan’s largest trading partner, fell 1.7%, only the third time they’ve declined in the past two years. Shipments to the US and Europe also decreased.
“Exports have clearly been slowing down, so this probably isn’t just about natural disasters,” said Norio Miyagawa, an economist at Mizuho Securities Co. “It partly reflects some weakness in the global economy, including China.”
He added that it was too early to determine the impact of the US-China trade war on Japanese exports.
“Net exports probably remained a drag on GDP growth in the third quarter (3Q),” Capital Economics’ Marcel Thieliant said in a note. “It now looks likely that economic activity came to a standstill in 3Q.”
Separately, the US Treasury in a report overnight said it remained concerned about the persistence of a large trade deficit with Japan. It left the country on its currency watch list, along with China, South Korea, India, Germany and Switzerland.
Japan’s global trade balance in September, seasonally adjusted, showed a deficit of ¥238.9 billion.
Exports to the US slipped 0.2% in September while those to the European Union decreased 4.1%.