Overseas shipments, the driver of more than half of last quarter's expansion, rose 4 percent from a year earlier, the Finance Ministry said today in Tokyo. Exports climbed 2.3 percent in March and the median estimate of 17 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News was for a 2.5 percent gain.
Shipments to the U.S. fell for an eighth month, extending the longest losing streak since 2004, as the housing recession stifled consumer demand in Japan's biggest overseas market. Sales to China and commodity-producing countries have helped Asia's exporters withstand the U.S. slump.
The yen traded at 102.81 per dollar at 9:16 a.m. in Tokyo from 103.07 before the report was published.
South Korea's overseas shipments climbed in April at the fastest pace in more than three years, and those from Taiwan increased 14 percent.
Japan's imports rose 11.9 percent from a year earlier as oil prices surged to a record, narrowing the trade surplus by 46.3 percent to 485 billion yen ($4.7 billion), the ministry said. Economists expected a surplus of 739 billion yen.
Shipments to the U.S. fell 9.1 percent in April from a year earlier. Export growth to China accelerated to 14.1 percent last month from 3.1 percent in March. Shipments to Asia rose 7.2 percent after gaining 1.8 percent a month earlier. Exports to the European Union climbed 1.3 percent.
The fortunes of Japan's exporters have varied depending on where their customers are.
Fumio Ohtsubo, president of Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., last month said demand for Panasonic televisions in the Middle East and Russia will help profit climb 10 percent to a record in the year ending March 31.
Meanwhile Toyota Motor Corp., the nation's biggest automaker, expects falling U.S. sales, higher commodity prices and the stronger yen to erode earnings. Sony Corp. last week said profit at its electronics division will fall this year because of the currency's gains.
The yen traded 14 percent higher against the dollar in April from the same month a year earlier, eroding the value of exports when repatriated and making Japan's goods less competitive abroad. About half of the nation's shipments overseas are settled in dollars.
A surge in exports to emerging markets helped Japan's economic growth accelerate last quarter, even as shipments to the U.S. fell. Still, the U.S. slowdown is taking a toll on Asia, where Japan ships about half its exports. Shipments of semiconductors and electrical parts to China fell in the five months through March.