TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s exports in February likely fell at a much slower pace than the previous month, but weak global demand and U.S.-China trade frictions continue to cloud the outlook, a Reuters poll showed on Friday.
Exports are expected to have slipped 0.9 percent in February from a year earlier, the poll of 17 economists found, after slumping 8.4 percent in January, the biggest decline in more than two years.
Imports, however, likely declined at a sharper pace of 5.8 percent in February after falling 0.6 percent in January, according to the poll.
“We expect exports in February made up for some of their losses (in January) caused by the Lunar New Year holiday,” said Takumi Tsunoda, senior economist at Shinkin Central Bank Research Institute. The holiday, which causes significant business disruptions across much of Asia, began in early February this year and in mid-February in 2018.
“But the nation’s exports to Asia, especially shipments of IT-related items, are expected to have stayed weak.”
The trade balance likely swung back to a surplus of 310.2 billion yen ($2.78 billion) from a deficit of 1.41 trillion yen in January, the poll showed.
Global trade has slowed amid weaker Chinese and European economic growth and as Washington and Beijing remain locked in a tit-for-tat tariff battle, which is taking an increasing toll on Japan’s export-reliant economy.
The Finance Ministry will release trade data at 8:50 a.m. Japan time on Monday, March 18 (2350 GMT, March 17).
On inflation, Japan’s core consumer price index, which includes oil products but excludes volatile fresh food costs, is forecast to have risen 0.8 percent in February, the same pace as in January.
“Energy bills likely supported core CPI, while prices of gasoline and telecommunications weighed on,” said Shinichiro Kobayashi, senior economist at Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting.
“Core CPI will likely stay lackluster for a while as falls in oil prices will start to appear and mobile carriers are expected to cut phone charges.”
The Internal Affairs Ministry will publish data on consumer prices at 8:30 a.m. Tokyo time on March 22 (2330 GMT on March 21)
The Bank of Japan kept monetary policy settings steady on Friday but tempered its optimism that robust exports and factory output will underpin growth, in a nod to heightened overseas risks that threaten to derail a fragile economic recovery.
(Reporting by Kaori Kaneko; Editing by Kim Coghill)