TOKYO (AP) -- Japan's exports climbed 4.3% in September from a year earlier as shipments of vehicles, machinery and electronics rose while imports of oil and gas fell sharply, the government said Thursday.
Exports totaled 9.2 trillion yen ($61 billion) in September while imports fell 16.3% from the year before to 10.9 trillion yen ($72 billion), according to provisional customs data released Thursday.
That left a positive balance of 62.4 trillion yen ($410 billion), the first monthly trade surplus in three months.
September's increase in exports was the biggest gain since March and was stronger than analysts had expected. The figures suggest strong activity in Japan's vital manufacturing sector despite faltering global demand.
Economists said the drop in imports was mainly due to base effects from the year before.
In the first half of Japan's fiscal year, from April-September, exports edged up just 1.4% from a year earlier, to a record 50.2 trillion yen ($330 billion) while the trade deficit shrank by three-quarters to 2.7 trillion yen ($18 billion).
Trade with the rest of Asia has weakened in the past half-year, with a drop in exports of computer chips and semiconductor making equipment taking a toll on exports to China.
"The global electronics slump seems like it is continuing with semiconductor equipment down 14.5%, contributing to a decline in exports to China, the biggest destination of IT products," ING Economics said in a report.
Shipments to the U.S. and Europe rose, mainly thanks to strong sales of autos and auto parts, which jumped nearly 24%. Exports of electrical equipment surged 17% and exports of machinery were up 18%.
Japan's imports of oil fell 28% in April-September from a year earlier, while imports of liquefied natural gas sank almost 38% and imports of coal plunged 37%.