TOKYO - Japan's exports likely contracted at the fastest pace in more than three years in August, a Reuters poll showed on Friday, indicating increasing pressure on shipments as the economy is being hit by the U.S.-China trade war and slower global growth.
Adding to the challenges policymakers face, Japan's core consumer inflation is seen in the poll as slipping to the lowest level in more than two years, largely thanks to weaker energy prices.
Exports in August are forecast to have slumped 10.9% from a year earlier, which would be the biggest shrinkage since 14.0% in July 2016 and a far sharper one than July's 1.5% drop.
An August contraction would also extend the streak of declines that began in December to a ninth month.
Many export-reliant economies such as Japan have felt the pain from the U.S.-China trade dispute, which has already led to a slowdown in manufacturing activity and is seen weighing on Japanese business spending and earnings.
"Weak demand due to an overseas economic slowdown especially centred on China pushed down both export volumes and prices," said Kenta Maruyama, economist at Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting.
The poll also forecast that imports would fall 11.2% in August from a year earlier, likely indicating the trade deficit widened to 355.9 billion yen ($3.29 billion) from a revised 250.7 billion yen deficit the previous month.
Maruyama said he expects imports to find some support in September due to "pent-up demand ahead of a sales tax hike in October".
On Oct. 1, Japan's sales tax is scheduled to increase to 10% from 8%.
The Finance Ministry will publish trade data at 8:50 a.m. Tokyo time on Sept. 18 (2650 GMT Sept. 17).
WEAK PRICE GROWTH
The Reuters poll found the core consumer price index, which includes oil products but excludes volatile fresh food costs, likely rose 0.5% in August from a year earlier.
That would mark the weakest price growth since July 2017, when the index also expanded 0.5% and a deterioration from 0.6% in the previous month.
"We expect a decline in the price of gasoline and other petroleum products to deepen due to the fall in crude oil prices," economists at SMBC Nikko Securities said.
The stubbornly low inflation and heightened economic risks will keep pressure on the Bank of Japan to ease further, which could happen at a policy-setting meeting next week.
The BOJ has been brainstorming ways to deepen negative interest rates at minimal cost, as it considers adopting it as a main policy response to a slowing economy and growing global risks, sources familiar with the bank's thinking have said.
The Internal Affairs Ministry will release data on consumer prices at 8:30 a.m. Tokyo time on Sept. 20 (2330 GMT Sept. 19).
Japan's economy grew in April-June, but at a slower-than-expected pace, revised data showed on Monday, as the U.S.-China trade war caused a decline in business spending.
Adding to worries about firms' readiness to spend on factories, equipment and technology, a separate Reuters poll on Friday showed most Japanese companies have put capital investment plans on hold as trade risks grow.
($1 = 108.1600 yen)