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UPDATE 1-Japan Jan export growth points to continued economic recovery

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* Jan exports +12.2 pct yr/yr vs forecast +10.3 pct

* Export volume +9.2 pct yr/yr, up 12 months in row

* Imports +7.9 pct yr/yr vs forecast +8.3 pct

* Trade balance -943.4 bln yen vs forecast 1 trln yen

* Exports seen to grow, yen gains, US protectionism a concern

TOKYO, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Japan's exports grew in January for a 14th straight month led by brisk shipments of China-bound hybrid cars and electronics parts, a sign solid global demand for Japanese goods continued to underpin growth in the world's third largest economy. Ministry of Finance (MOF) data showed on Monday that exports grew 12.2 percent in January from a year earlier, following a 9.3 percent year-on-year gain in the previous month. The result handily beat a 10.3 percent increase expected by economists in a Reuters poll. Economists expect exports will continue to expand in the coming months, led by demand for the semiconductor-related products that boosted exports in 2017. Analysts are also wary about a rising yen as well as the U.S. stance towards protectionism ahead of the mid-term elections later this year, and potential effects on Japan's exports of cars and other products. A strong yen erodes profits at Japanese manufacturers and could hurt the otherwise buoyant economy, which posted an eighth straight quarter of growth in October-December. In a sign the yen's strength has undermined business sentiment, confidence among Japanese manufacturers worsened significantly in February from January's strong reading, the Reuters Tankan poll showed on Monday. Monday's trade data showed exports to China, Japan's biggest trading partner, jumped 30.8 percent year-on-year in January led cars. Shipments to Asia as a whole, which account for more than half of Japan's exports, grew 16.0 percent in the year to January. U.S.-bound shipments rose 1.2 percent in the year to January, led by steel, batteries and medicines, while car shipments declined 3.9 percent. The small rise in U.S.-bound exports followed a 3.0 percent gain in the previous month. Japan's trade surplus with the United States fell an annual 12.3 percent in January to 349.6 billion yen, a second declining month. Overall imports rose 7.9 percent in the year to January, versus the median estimate of an 8.3 percent increase. The trade balance came to a deficit of 943.4 billion yen ($8.87 billion), versus the median estimate of a 1 trillion yen deficit. It marked the first trade deficit in eight months.

($1 = 106.3000 yen)

(Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Chris Gallagher and Eric Meijer)