Japan's exports rose more than forecast in February as nation emerges from recession

TOKYO (Bloomberg) - Japanese exports rose more than forecast in February, supporting the nation's emergence from a recession last year.

The value of overseas shipments rose 2.4 per cent from a year earlier, the finance ministry said Wednesday, compared with a median estimate for a 0.3 per cent increase. Imports declined 3.6 percent, leaving a 424.6 billion yen trade deficit.

Exports are a growing bright spot in an economy that's still struggling with weak spending by consumers and businesses. Falling oil prices are helping shrink the deficit, which swelled after Japan increased fossil-fuel purchases from abroad after the Fukushima disaster in 2011.

"We still think that external demand will lead economic growth this year," Hiroshi Watanabe, an economist at SMBC Nikko Securities Inc., said before the data was released.

Shipments of motor vehicles, electrical parts such as semiconductors and metal-working machines contributed to gains in February. Exports to the US rose 14 per cent from a year ago while sales to China dropped 17 per cent.

The drop in oil prices is benefiting Japan's energy importers, with the price of brent crude down about 53 percent since a peak in June last year.

Gross domestic product expanded an annualised 1.5 per cent in the three months through December from the previous quarter, after shrinking for two quarters.