Japan reported a surprising economic upswing in the first three months of the year, shrinking the forecast of a contraction in the third largest economy in the world.
Japan’s economy, only behind United States and China, grew at an annualized rate of 2.1% in the first quarter of 2019, according to preliminary data released on Monday by Japan’s Cabinet office.
That exceeds analysts’ expectations of a 0.2% contraction, since imports fell faster than imports.
The latest data was being closely watched amid speculation that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government could postpone a planned sales tax hike for the third time if the GDP growth figure were very weak.
The surprising expansion of the official GDP figure was driven mainly by imports that fell faster than exports.
Imports fell 4.6%, the biggest drop in a decade while exports fell by more than 2.4%.
“The surprising resilience of the economy at the beginning of the year means that GDP growth will be stronger this year than we had anticipated,” said economist Marcel Thieliant.
Mr. Thieliant also said that following the better-than-expected growth figures, Japan “will go ahead with the increase in sales tax scheduled for October 1.”
Some policy makers have called for a delay in increasing sales tax from 8% to 10% due to a context of uncertain internal and global economic conditions.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has already delayed the planned increase and uncertainties in the global economy, including the slowdown in growth in China and his trade war with the United States, have raised some concern that it could be delayed again.
However the country’s economic minister, Toshmitsu Motegi, seemed to indicate that plans for a higher sales tax remained on track.
“There is no change in our view that the fundamentals that support domestic demand are still strong,” Motegi told the reporters.