Japan’s exports unexpectedly fell in September — the first drop in almost two years — as natural disasters disrupted economic activity and higher energy prices continued to feed gains in imports.
While one-off events make it difficult to assess the impact of the U.S.-China trade dispute, Japanese export growth has been slowing this year following double-digit expansion in 2017.
In September, Typhoon Jebi temporarily closed Kansai International Aiport — the departure point for around 7 percent of shipments from the manufacturing heartland around Osaka. And an earthquake in Hokkaido cut power to the entire island in Japan’s north, disrupting supply chains.
The value of exports fell 1.2 percent in the month from a year earlier (against a forecast 2.1 percent gain), data from the Finance Ministry showed Thursday.
Imports increased 7.0 percent (against a forecast rise of 13.7 percent), maintaining gains that have been interrupted only once since the start of 2017.
The trade balance was a surplus of ¥139.6 billion ($1.2 billion), compared with a forecast shortfall of ¥45.1 billion.
Exports to China, Japan’s largest trading partner, fell 1.7 percent — only the third time they’ve declined in the past two years. Shipments to the U.S. 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 is was too early to determine the impact of the U.S.-China trade war on Japanese exports.
Separately, the U.S. 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 U.S. slipped 0.2 percent in September while those to the EU decreased 4.1 percent.
For the six months through September goods trade logged a surplus of ¥222.0 billion, the sixth straight half-year period of black ink but a plunge of 88.1 percent from a year earlier. Exports rose 5.2 percent, while imports climbed 10.0 percent during the first half of fiscal 2018.