TOKYO—Japan’s exports posted their biggest jump in over a year in January while imports shrank, as the yen’s sharp fall and the nation’s powerful manufacturing industry helped the country deal with a weak domestic economy.
Exports for the month grew 17% from a year ago, data released by the Ministry of Finance showed Thursday. Imports decreased 9%, marking their biggest fall in more than five years, as the price tag for inbound shipments of crude oil was dramatically smaller.
The trade balance came to a deficit of ¥1.18 trillion, marking the 31st straight month of shortfalls. But that was 58% less than the trade deficit the country logged in January 2014.
Japan tends to post larger trade deficits in January, when exporters typically are away from the market.
While the headline figure was a positive development, there is no guarantee exports will continue to rise in this fashion. “The global economy faces the prospect of subpar growth, notwithstanding a boost from the recent drop in oil prices,” said Naoyuki Shinohara, deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund, in Tokyo Wednesday.
Japanese exporters have been helped by a sharply weaker yen and strong demand for electronics components from rapidly growing Chinese smartphone makers. Demand has also been strong from the U.S., whose economy has been growing at a faster-than-expected pace in recent quarters.
Exports of semiconductor parts to Asia surged 27% and auto exports to U.S., where demand for pick-up trucks is growing on the back of falling gasoline prices, jumped 14%.
Japan’s gross domestic product data, released Monday, also confirmed these trends. Exports grew 2.7% in the fourth quarter of 2014 from the previous three-month period, or an annualized pace of 11%.