Japan's exports jumped 40 percent in April, rising for a fifth straight month, fueled by brisk overseas demand for cars and high-tech goods in a fresh sign that the global economy is recovering.
Led by shipments of cars and semiconductors, exports rose to 5.9 trillion yen ($65 billion), the Ministry of Finance said Thursday. Automobile exports more than doubled from a year earlier, while semiconductor shipments rose 35.5 percent.
"The figures underlined a steady recovery in the global economy. It is heartening to see Japanese car exports sharply up in every key region," said Hiroshi Watanabe, economist at Daiwa Institute of Research.
Robust global demand, particularly in Asia, is feeding a turnaround in Japan's economy — the world's second-largest — offsetting weak demand and falling prices at home. Japan's exports to Asia alone account for 56 percent of total shipments.
Watanabe said a recovery in global auto sales, which plummeted during the global economic crisis in the wake of the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers, is vital to Japan's economic recovery.
"The auto industry is one of the key pillars of the Japanese economy. With recovering demand, auto makers can boost capital investment and increase employment, stimulating domestic demand," he said.
Recent economic signals from Japan have been fairly upbeat. Gross domestic product grew at an annual pace of 4.9 percent in the first quarter, the fourth straight quarter of expansion on the back of soaring exports to China.
Thursday's trade figures showed that U.S.-bound exports rose 34.5 percent, while exports to Asia surged 45.3 percent in April. Exports to China alone jumped 41.4 percent, while shipments to the European Union grew 19.8 percent.
Europe-bound exports rose for a fifth consecutive month, but Hideki Matsumura, senior economist at the Japan Research Institute, warned a slump in demand from the region is around the corner because of the debt crisis in European countries that use the euro.
"The crisis could dent demand for Japanese products. But its impact will be limited because Japanese exports to Europe are much smaller than those to the United States and Asia," Matsumura said.
Japan's exports to the European Union account for 11 percent of total shipments.
Europe's fiscal crisis has sparked massive selling of the euro, which is now hovering around a four-year low against the dollar. Its slide has become a symbol of waning confidence in Europe's ability to contain its debt problems.
The crisis has also rattled stock markets worldwide on fears that Europe's debt problems could stifle the global economic recovery.
Japan's imports in April rose 24.2 percent to 5.1 trillion yen, resulting in a trade surplus of 742 billion yen.
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