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Japan's exports grow more than expected but manufacturers' mood sours

TOKYO, February 21 ------ Japan's exports rose more than expected in January, driven by U.S.-bound shipments of cars and car parts and Chinese demand for chip-making equipment, helping ease some concerns about weakness in the broader economy. 


Ministry of Finance data out on Wednesday showed Japan's exports rose 11.9 per cent in January from the same month a year ago, faster than a 9.5 per cent gain expected by economists in a Reuters poll and 9.7 per cent growth in the previous month. 


The brisk exports could ease some concerns about further economic decline as the Reuters Tankan survey showed manufacturers' business morale soured sharply, with pessimists outnumbering optimists for the first time in 10 months. The batch of indicators followed data last week that showed Japan unexpectedly tipping into recession in the fourth quarter and losing its spot as the world's third-largest economy to Germany. Speculation has grown since last year that the Bank of Japan may exit its negative interest rates policy as early as March or April, if wage and price growth picks up enough. 


However, recent weak data has stoked worries Japanese firms may become reluctant to boost wages enough to achieve stable and sustainable inflation in a country that has been mired in a deflationary mindset for more than a decade. The Reuters Tankan indexes found that manufacturers' sentiment tumbled to minus 1 in February from the prior month's plus 6, the first negative reading since last April. The index is seen rebounding to plus 6 in May. The trade data also showed imports fell 9.6 per cent, versus the median estimate for a 8.4 per cent decrease. The trade balance came to a deficit of 1.758 trillion yen ($11.73 billion), versus the median estimate for a deficit of 1.926 trillion yen.   



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