May 25, 2015 / 1:15 AM / 5 years ago

Japan export growth dips, outlook uncertain as China, U.S. economies slow

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s exports rose in April from a year earlier led by U.S.-bound shipments of cars, but the monthly pace of growth slowed from March - a worrying portent for external demand as a slowdown in the economies of China and the U.S. clouds the outlook.

A worker walks near a container area at a port in Tokyo, in this file photo taken on February 19, 2015. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Ministry of Finance data out on Monday showed exports grew 8.0 percent year-on-year in April, versus a 6.4 percent gain seen by economists in a Reuters poll, slowing from a 8.5 percent gain in March. Compared with March, shipments fell 1.5 percent in April.

Slowdown in export growth could hold back the economy’s recovery from last year’s recession, after last week’s data that showed the economy posted two straight quarters of moderate expansion.

Policymakers count on exports as a key driver of corporate activity, which could help boost wages and spur private spending to generate a virtuous growth cycle needed to shake off years of deflation.

“The figures were not so bad as we thought but shipments to China and Asia turned out weak, which is worrying for the outlook for Japan’s external demand,” said Hidenobu Tokuda, senior economist at Mizuho Research Institute.

Shipments to China, Japan’s largest trading partner, rose 2.4 percent, slowing from a 3.9 percent gain in March, the data showed. China-bound car exports halved in the year to April.

Exports to Asia, which account for more than half of Japan’s shipments, grew 6.0 percent, slowing from a 6.7 percent gain in March. Tokuda said the slowdown probably reflected weakness in Thailand and other ASEAN economies.

Exports to the United States rose 21.4 percent in the year to April, keeping the pace of gains in the previous month with brisk shipments of cars and vehicle engines.

Imports fell 4.2 percent in the year to April, a fourth straight month of annual declines, mainly due to a sharp fall in crude oil prices. The fall was deeper than the median estimate for a 1.5 percent drop.

The trade balance swung back into a deficit of 53.4 billion yen (283.7 million pounds), much smaller than the median estimate for a 318.9 billion yen deficit, after posting the first trade surplus in nearly three years in March.

First quarter gross domestic product data showed export growth slowed to 2.4 percent from 3.2 percent in October-December, reflecting the slowdown in the U.S. and Chinese economies.

Imports outpaced exports, causing external demand to shave off 0.2 percent off the economic growth in January-March.

Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Eric Meijer

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