Japan just recorded its largest trade surplus in over 5 years

Photo by Keith Tsuji/Getty Images

Japanese trade data for March has beaten expectations, although, on face value, the figures were still pretty terrible.

According to the Ministry of Finance, the value of Japanese exports fell by 6.8% from 12 months earlier, a steeper contraction that the 4.0% decline registered in February, but above expectations for a fall of 6.9%.

It was the sixth month in succession that exports had fallen on an annualised basis.

By destination, exports to Asia fell by 9.7%, with those to China sliding by a smaller 7.1%. Those to the United States contracted by 5.1% after rising 0.2% in February.

On the other side of the ledger, imports all topped expectations, falling by just 14.9%. Although steeper than the 14.2% drop seen in the year to February, the figure was below the 16.2% decline expected.

Imports have now fallen in annual terms for the past 15 months, largely as a result of weakness in crude prices.

As a result, the trade surplus swelled to 755 billion yen for the month. Although below the 834.6 median forecast offered by economists, it was still the largest recorded since October 2010.

The chart below shows the recent trend in exports and imports, along with the national trade balance.