TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japan's exports rose 1.8 per cent in March from a year earlier, Ministry of Finance (MOF) data showed on Monday, suggesting that sluggish external demand could put a drag on the economy already hit by the April 1 sales tax hike.
The rise in exports compared with a 6.3 per cent gain seen by economists in a Reuters poll. It followed an annual 9.8 per cent increase in February.
Imports grew 18.1 per cent in the year to March, compared with a 16.2 per cent gain expected, and following a 9.0 per cent rise in the previous month.
The country's trade balance stood at a deficit of 1.446 trillion yen (S$17.7 billion) in March, against a shortfall of 1.070 trillion yen expected, after logging a record trade gap of 2.79 trillion yen in January. That marked a record 21-month run of deficits.
On a seasonally adjusted basis, exports fell 2.7 per cent in March from the previous month.
For the last fiscal year that ended in March, Japan logged a record trade deficit of 13.75 trillion yen. Exports have remained relatively sluggish, despite the effects of a weak yen. At the same time, the weak yen has also boosted the cost of imports.