Japanese exports fell for a 12th consecutive month in September, rounding out a rough year for manufacturers struggling with a stronger yen and soft global demand.

Yet the numbers were better than expected, and export volumes rose last month by the most in nearly two years, prompting some upbeat assessments by economists.

“Today’s report confirmed that exports are on the rebound,” said Masaki Kuwahara, senior economist at Nomura Securities Co. “Manufacturing activities are picking up globally, especially in Asian nations. That bodes well for Japanese exports.”

Key Points

  • Overseas shipments dropped 6.9 percent in September from a year earlier, the Ministry of Finance said on Monday.
  • The median estimate of economists surveyed by Bloomberg pointed to a 10.8 percent decline.
  • Imports fell 16.3 percent during the same period, resulting in a trade surplus of 498.3 billion yen ($4.8 billion).

Big Picture

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has gotten little help from exports recently as he tries to revive Japan’s economy. Net shipments abroad shaved 0.3 percentage point off gross domestic product growth in the second quarter. The yen has gained 16 percent since the start of the year, and soft global demand has made matters worse. This environment has made companies more reluctant to invest in domestic production, compounding the difficulty of creating economic growth.

The September trade data offered hope that exports may soon be driving growth again. While down, they fell the least since March and shipment volume rose by 4.7 percent, the most since January 2015, according to Capital Economics.

Economist Takeaways

  • “The strong rise in export volumes underlines that Japan’s manufacturing sector is showing resilience as external demand remains weak,” Marcel Thieliant, senior Japan economist at Capital Economics in Singapore, wrote in a note.
  • Nomura’s Kuwahara said real exports rose more than 1 percent in the July-September period from the previous quarter, according to Nomura’s calculations, a positive sign for third-quarter gross domestic product.
  • “Japan’s economy will probably recover gradually toward the end of the year, with a pickup in exports,” Kuwahara said.

The Details

  • Exports to the U.S. fell 8.7 percent from a year earlier.
  • Those to the EU rose 0.7 percent.
  • Exports to China, Japan’s largest trading partner, dropped 10.6 percent.
  • Adjusted for seasonal factors, exports showed a monthly increase of 0.3 percent by value, and imports showed a pickup of 0.6 percent.