(Bloomberg) -- Japan’s exports grew at the fastest clip since late 2022 as the weak yen boosted their value, a positive development for the nation’s manufacturing sector.

Exports increased 13.5% from a year ago in May, marking a sixth month of gains, the Finance Ministry reported Wednesday. The gain outpaced economists’ consensus estimate of a 12.7% increase, and it was the largest since November of 2022.

Imports advanced 9.5%, in line with estimates. The trade deficit came to ¥1.22 trillion ($7.7 billion), widening from ¥466 billion in April.

Stronger-than-expected shipments were also driven by the country’s weak currency. The yen traded at an average of 155.48 against the dollar in May, 14.9% weaker than a year ago, the ministry said. 

“A weaker yen is a plus for exporters,” said Ryotaro Tsuchiya, economist at Mizuho Securities Co. “On the other hand, given that import bills are also more inflated, it is difficult to find much of a positive, as Japan needs to pay more to foreign countries, which will increase costs for companies.”

The beleaguered currency has provided a tailwind for exporters, underpinning a 23% gain in current profits at manufacturers in the first quarter. At the same time, there is growing concern among importers about a resurgence of cost-push inflation. More than 60% of surveyed Japanese firms said the weak yen would hurt their profit, according to a report by Teikoku Databank in May.

Growth in exports came amid mixed signals from key overseas markets. Data Tuesday showed that US retail sales barely rose in May, while prior months were revised lower. At the same time, industrial production surged on the back of output of consumer goods. Meantime, China’s retail sales growth beat consensus in May even as the property slump deepened, and household consumption in the euro-area is expected to pick up a tad this year.

By region, Japan’s exports to the US jumped 23.9%, while those to China increased 17.8% and shipments to the EU fell by 10.1%.

Car exports rose 13.6% as automakers including Daihatsu Motor Co. resumed operations after temporarily halting production in the wake of a safety certification scandal. It’s unclear if that momentum will carry over into coming months, as the scandal has since spread. Japan recently suspended the delivery and sales of six vehicles, including three manufactured by Toyota Motor Corp., after a government probe found falsified or manipulated safety data.

Other products that gained included semiconductor manufacturing equipment and electronic components.

Persistent weakness in the yen is raising concerns about the potential for a resurgence in cost-push inflation, likely weighing on private consumption. Consumer sentiment dropped by the largest margin in more than two years in May, an indication that households are increasingly concerned about persistent inflation fueled by the weak yen. 

BOJ Governor Kazuo Ueda reiterated in parliament on Tuesday that authorities need to monitor how the yen and import prices are affecting the broader economy. 

(Updates with economist’s comment)

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