Japan export growth slows further in October as supply snags weigh

The value of Japan's overseas shipments increased 9.4 per cent from a year earlier.
The value of Japan's overseas shipments increased 9.4 per cent from a year earlier.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) - Japan's exports gained at the slowest pace in eight months in October as car shipments continued to slump, adding to signs that global supply constraints are still weighing on the economy after it contracted by more than expected in the last quarter.

The value of Japan's overseas shipments increased 9.4 per cent from a year earlier, according to the Ministry of Finance on Wednesday (Nov 17). Economists had expected a gain of 10.3 per cent.

While exports of steel and semiconductor manufacturing equipment continued to show sharp gains, exports of cars plunged by more than a third as major automakers scaled back production due to parts shortages.

The figures come just a couple of days before Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is expected to unveil a package of measures to get the economy back on track, including some steps to shore up Japan's supplies of chips.

"While parts shortages continued to limit car output in October, production was already starting to recover to some extent," said UBS Securities economist Masamichi Adachi. "So slightly stronger exports would have left a better impression."

Mr Adachi said he expects a pretty strong recovery in car exports overall during the last quarter of the year.

The softening export trend places more importance on Mr Kishida coming up with ways to help boost consumer spending in support of the economy rather than relying on external demand. The economy shrank an annualised 3 per cent from July to September, with exports dropping 8.3 per cent from the previous quarter.

The Premier is looking to take steps to normalise activity in the economy now that about three quarters of the population is fully vaccinated.

Imports gained 26.7 per cent last month due partly to rising oil prices.

Exports to United States inched up just 0.4 per cent, as a big drop in car exports dragged on other gains.

The value of shipments to China rose 9.5 per cent, also the smallest gain since February.

Separate data showed machinery orders, a leading indicator of capital spending, were flat in September from a month earlier.

While export growth was likely to stabilise in the autumn months as comparisons with year-earlier figures became less favourable, the supply chain snags have cooled the recovery in global trade. The October data showed the volume of exports fell for the first time in eight months from a year earlier.

Still, Toyota Motor offered hope last week that global supply chains are starting to recover from the recent squeeze. After a series of output cuts, Japan's biggest automaker said all of its domestic production lines will be operating normally from next month for the first time in seven months, according to a statement by the company.