|JAPAN FEBRUARY EXPORTS ACCELERATING; TRADE GAP TO NARROW|
Aruba, March 14, 2014 - Japan's export growth is forecast to have accelerated in February as shipments recovered from a Lunar New Year slowdown, which along with slower import growth is expected see the trade deficit narrow from record levels, a Reuters poll shows. Lackluster exports have been a concern for policymakers, who are counting on shipments to help cushion an expected dent in domestic activity from next month when the sales tax rate rises to 8 percent from the current 5 percent.
Despite the sharp fall in the yen since late 2012, which has pushed up the cost of imports, there has not been a significant boost in export volumes, in part because of exporters' reluctance to cut prices.
The Reuters poll found exports are expected to have risen 12.4 percent in February from a year earlier, led by brisk car shipments to the United States. If realized, it would be the first time since October that export growth has accelerated from the previous month.
Imports are forecast to have increased an annual 7.4 percent, the median estimate of 27 economists showed, leading to an expected trade deficit of 590.0 billion yen ($5.78 billion).
While that would be well below January's record trade shortfall of 2.79 trillion yen, it would still extend the record run of deficits to 20 months. The Ministry of Finance will release the data on Wednesday at 8:50 a.m. (Tuesday 7.50 p.m.ET).
"The trade data may be positive to the economy, but when looking at January-February figures on average, exports have not grown so strongly," said Minoru Nogimori, economist at Nomura Securities in Tokyo.
Exports rose an annual 9.5 percent in January, and imports rose 25.0 percent.
"It will take some time for global demand to fully recover. Therefore I expect that Japan's exports will recover with a lag in the latter half of this year," Nogimori said.