Thu, Nov 21, 2013 - Page 15 News List

Japan trade deficit nearly doubles on energy charges

AFP, TOKYO

Japan’s trade deficit last month nearly doubled from a year ago, official data showed yesterday, as soaring energy bills eclipsed an improving export picture.

Government figures showed that Japan logged a bigger-than-expected ¥1.09 trillion (US$10.9 billion) trade deficit last month.

The latest figure, a record for October, was nearly double a ¥556.2 billion shortfall a year earlier and marked the 16th straight month of deficit, the longest stretch in over three decades.

Energy imports surged after the 2011 Fukushima Dai-ichi crisis forced the shutdown of Japan’s nuclear reactors, which once supplied a third of the nation’s power.

A sharp decline in the yen, which is good for exporters’ profitability, has also forced up the cost of importing pricey fossil-fuels to plug the country’s energy gap.

Japan’s trade imbalance was largely due to the rising cost — and volume — of crude oil and liquefied natural gas shipments as well as surging purchases of electronic parts.

Overall, imports jumped 26.1 percent to ¥7.2 trillion from a year ago, rising at their fastest pace in over three years.

Exports were also up again, rising 18.6 percent to ¥6.1 trillion, according to the government.

“Exports were rather weak until September, but now they seem to be recovering,” Mizuho Research Institute senior economist Yasuo Yamamoto said. “But imports have increased substantially, contributing to the trade deficit.”

Yesterday’s trade data came after separate figures last week showed Japan’s GDP growth halved in the July-September quarter, on slower exports and consumer spending.

“After we saw exports decrease in the July-September GDP, these October export figures are somewhat of a relief,” Yamamoto told Dow Jones Newswires.

“I think we’ll be seeing the trade deficit gradually shrinking, but only incrementally, since the weaker yen is pushing up import prices,” he added.

The Bank of Japan was to start a two-day policy meeting yesterday with markets keen to see if its expands its massive stimulus drive.

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