TOKYO — Japan’s economic engine may not exactly be roaring, but there is a definite hum in the air.
The economy grew for a fifth consecutive quarter at the start of 2017, the longest stretch of growth in more than a decade. The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been trying for four and a half years to coax the economy into a higher gear. Although Japan’s output is still the world’s third-largest, after the United States and China, consistent growth has been elusive — the result of headwinds like a declining population and deflation.
Japanese gross domestic product increased by 2.2 percent in annualized terms in the three months through March, the government’s Cabinet Office said in a preliminary estimate on Thursday. The economy has now been expanding for a longer period than at any time since 2005-6, when it grew for six quarters in a row.
The pace of expansion also accelerated from the previous quarter, and was stronger than economists had expected. Analysts surveyed by news agencies had forecast a growth rate of 1.7 percent, on average.
What Is Driving Growth?
Exports have been lifting output since the start of the expansion, and they did so again last quarter. A broadly recovering global economy is helping, as is a weaker yen, which makes Japanese cars, electronic components and other goods more affordable abroad. (Japan’s trade surplus irritates the Trump administration, which has criticized some of the country’s practices.)
The domestic side of the economy has been…