/

Japan posts 17th straight current-account surplus in November

Bloomberg, Kyodo

The nation posted a current account surplus for the 17th consecutive month in November, providing support for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to boost the world’s third-largest economy.

The excess in the widest measure of the nation’s trade was ¥1.14 trillion in November, up from ¥440.2 billion a year earlier, the Finance Ministry said Tuesday in Tokyo. The median estimate of 23 economists surveyed by Bloomberg was for a surplus of ¥895 billion.

The surplus was supported by a rise in income from investments abroad by Japanese companies as well as a gain in services, which came with an influx of tourists after the yen weakened. The boost helps an economy that has been hurt by a slowdown in exports, including to China, Japan’s biggest trading partner.

“The wider current account surplus bodes well for Japan’s economy,” said Junko Nishioka, chief economist for Japan at Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. in Tokyo. “Going forward, Japan will likely hold onto the surplus trend.”

Declining oil prices and recent gains in the yen, which may push down import prices and improve the trade balance, are expected to help Japan maintain the current-account surplus in coming months, Nishioka said.

Among key components of the current account, the goods trade deficit plunged 57 percent to ¥271.5 billion, with exports falling 6.3 percent and imports sliding 10.9 percent.

The value of crude oil imports slid 40.9 percent as average oil prices fell 47.7 percent to $47.48 per barrel in the month. The value of liquefied natural gas imports dropped 41.5 percent.

Japan has been relying heavily on energy imports since the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, with most of the country’s commercial reactors remaining offline amid heightened public concern about their safety.

The primary income surplus was ¥1.54 trillion in November, the largest on record for November, according to the report.

The income surplus, a record high for November since comparable data became available in 1985, was also lifted by a cheaper yen, which helps raise receipts from overseas securities investments.

The yen dropped 5.4 percent year-on-year in the reporting month to an average 122.54 to the dollar. A weaker yen usually supports exports by making products cheaper abroad and lifts the value of overseas revenues in yen terms.

The services balance had a surplus of ¥61.5 billion, helped by charges for the use of intellectual property rights and travel.

The travel surplus expanded about fourfold to ¥98.5 billion, the largest for the month since comparable data became available in 1996, the ministry said.