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Oct 24, 12:28 AM EDT

Japan posts trade surplus in Sept; exports down 7 percent

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TOKYO (AP) -- Japan's trade balance swung to a surplus in September, as exports fell less than expected.

Customs figures released Monday showed exports in September totaled 5.97 trillion yen ($57.4 billion). Imports fell 16.3 percent from a year earlier to 5.47 trillion yen ($52.6 billion).

The surplus of 498.3 billion yen ($4.8 billion) compared with a deficit of 18.7 billion yen in August.

Japan's trade balance has mostly fallen in recent months as the value of the yen has risen against the dollar. That makes Japanese products less competitive in overseas markets, though it also cuts costs for imports of oil and gas and other dollar-denominated commodities. Exports had fallen 9.6 percent in August from a year earlier, and forecasts were for a drop of over 10 percent in September.

The decline in exports in yen terms in September was the smallest since March, while export volumes rose by 4.7 percent year-on-year.

"The strong rise in export volumes underlines that Japan's manufacturing is showing resilience as external demand remains weak," Marcel Thieliant of Capital Economics said in a commentary.

Japan's exports to China fell nearly 11 percent from a year earlier, while exports to the U.S., its biggest overseas market, dropped 8.7 percent. Most major categories of products, including shipments of machinery, electronics and vehicles, dropped from the year before.

A 34 percent drop in imports of oil, gas and other fuels was the biggest factor dragging down imports.

The trade data coincided with the release of a preliminary survey of factory managers showing a rebound in manufacturing in October.

The Nikkei "Flash" purchasing managers' index, or PMI, for October showed increases in new export orders, other new orders and output. On a scale of 100 with 50 marking the line between expansion and contraction, the flash PMI was 51.7, the highest level in nine months, compared with 50.4 the month before.

"Production rose at the sharpest rate this year so far, helped by a boost in sales, which have increased for the first time since January," Amy Brownbill, an economist at IHS Market, which compiles the survey, said in a commentary.

She said new exports rose at the fastest rate in nine months thanks to strong foreign demand. Manufacturers also benefited from lower costs for materials used in manufacturing, she said.

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