Japanese exports rise as car shipments surge in March

Japanese factory
Image caption Car exports are a key contributor to Japanese economic growth

Japan's exports rose in March, boosted by a surge in shipments of cars as the sector continues to recover from last year's natural disasters.

Car exports rose 33.6% from a year earlier, with overall exports up by 5.9%, latest trade data showed.

Japanese carmakers have also benefited from growing demand from key markets such as the US.

Sales of cars and light trucks in the US rose 13% in March, with Toyota's sales up by 15% and Nissan gaining 13%.

Ryoji Musha of Musha Research told the BBC that the "improvement of exports indicates that the Japanese and the global economy are recovering".

Mr Musha added that the recent weakness of the Japanese yen had also played a part in boosting exports.

The currency fell more than 8% against the US dollar between February and March this year, making Japanese goods more affordable to foreign buyers.

Growing imports

Japanese imports rose by 10.5% in March, resulting in a trade deficit of 82.6bn yen ($1bn; £632m) during the month.

The jump was driven largely by a 21.8% increase in imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Japan has seen imports of LNG and other fuels rise in recent months.

Last year it shut down almost all of its nuclear power stations in the wake of radiation leaks at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant after the earthquake and tsunami.

As a result the country's electricity providers have been relying more heavily on thermal power plants, which require coal, oil and LNG to operate.

Analysts said that growing imports of fuel are likely to affect Japan's trade numbers in the coming months.

"Exports to the United States such as autos are unlikely to keep growing, while the levels of imports will remain high, driven by purchases of natural resources," said Hideo Shimamine, chief economist at Daiichi Life Research Institute.

"It looks like we will be having trade deficits for the time being."