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Japan exports gain in April; rising oil prices pinch surplus

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s exports rose a solid 7.5 percent in April from a year earlier though the trade surplus dropped as higher oil prices pushed the value of imports higher.

The figures released Monday were in line with estimates, given a rebound in demand in recent months.

Exports totaled 6.3 trillion yen ($56.7 billion) in April and imports rose 15 percent to 5.8 trillion yen ($5.2 billion). The trade surplus dropped almost 41 percent from a year earlier to 481.7 billion yen ($4.3 billion).

Exports to China jumped 15 percent while shipments to the U.S. climbed 2.6 percent. Trade with other Asian markets such as South Korea and Taiwan has recovered recently, helping drive stronger growth in Japan.

Japan’s machinery exports saw strong growth in April, while vehicle exports were nearly flat. Exports of machinery to the U.S. rose 6.8 percent.

Japan’s trade surplus with the U.S., a focus of attention for the administration of President Donald Trump, fell 4.2 percent from the year before to 586.7 billion yen ($5.3 billion), as imports rose nearly 10 percent.

Oil and gas imports surged nearly 60 percent from a year earlier.

The figures suggest support for growth in the near term, though many economists cite lagging wage growth as a handicap in a country whose population is aging and shrinking, limiting the economy’s overall growth potential.

“Where exports lead, investment is likely to follow. These data continue to support what looks about as positive a growth story as we have seen for some time. What is still missing is some wages growth – a global issue it seems – and some inflation,” Tim Condon of ING said in a commentary.

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