Japan’s exports unexpectedly fell in June to swell the trade deficit more than forecast, dragging on an economy squeezed by a sales-tax increase in April.
Exports shrank 2 percent from a year earlier, the finance ministry said in Tokyo today, compared with a median forecast of a 1 percent rise in a Bloomberg News survey of 29 economists. Imports rose 8.4 percent to leave a shortfall of 822.2 billion yen ($8.1 billion), surpassing a 643 billion yen projection.
Exports fell 1.7 percent by volume, showing the yen’s 16 percent drop against the dollar since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came to power in December 2012 has failed to boost outward shipments. They remain 23 percent lower by value than a peak in March 2008, in contrast to the U.S. where they grew 25 percent over the same period.
“Export recovery will be sluggish mainly due to structural reasons” as Japanese companies are producing products abroad for foreign demand, Kiichi Murashima, chief economist at Citigroup Inc. in Tokyo, said after the data. “The trade deficit will remain at the current level through the end of this year with both exports and imports growing slightly.”
The benchmark Topix (TPX) index closed down 0.2 percent in Tokyo, and the yen was little changed at 101.49 against the dollar at 3:38 p.m.
A 5.1 percent fall in electrical machinery exports was the biggest contributor to the overall decline, with much stemming from an 8.7 percent slide in semiconductor shipments. Mineral fuels and organic chemical exports also declined.
Exports to the U.S. fell 2.2 percent from a year earlier, with automobile shipments dropping 6.8 percent, and those to Asia were down 3.8 percent. Shipments rose 1.5 to China and 6.4 percent to the European Union.
Imports in the first six months of 2014 were the most in any half-year in comparable data back to 1979. With fossil-fuel imports swelling the trade deficit to the most in any such period, a pickup in exports is needed to sustain growth in the world’s third-largest economy.
Mineral fuel imports were up 8.3 percent, and made up 31 percent of total inbound shipments.
Bank of Japan Deputy Governor Hiroshi Nakaso said yesterday that the sluggishness in exports is due to slow growth in overseas economies.
The government this week cut its growth forecast for the year ending March 2015 to 1.2 percent from a previous projection of 1.4 percent, citing weak foreign demand and a fall in consumption after the tax rise.