Cheap oil boosts Japan’s 2015 current account surplus sixfold


The nation’s current account surplus grew more than sixfold in 2015 from the previous year to ¥16.64 trillion, boosted by a plunge in crude oil imports and a travel surplus amid the yen’s depreciation, government data showed Monday.

Goods trade registered a deficit of ¥643.4 billion, down 93.8 percent from the deficit of ¥10.40 trillion in 2014, thanks to plunges in oil prices that helped improve the trade balance despite slow growth in exports.

The current account surplus, one of the widest gauges of international trade, grew for the first time in five years, as imports dived 10.3 percent to ¥75.82 trillion, while exports rose 1.5 percent to ¥75.18 trillion, the Finance Ministry said in a preliminary report.

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.

Yuichiro Nagai, an economist at Barclays Securities Japan Ltd., said oil prices are likely to continue to be a major factor influencing Japan’s trade balance, as exports are expected to remain sluggish this year.

“Export demand for China and other Asian regions was weak in 2015, while shipments to the United States also fell on a volume basis,” Nagai said. “The weakness in exports seen in the latter half of 2015 is likely to remain.”

The value of crude oil imports slid 41.0 percent as average oil prices almost halved to $55.00 per barrel in 2015. The value of liquefied natural gas imports dropped 29.5 percent.

Also lifting the current account balance was a record travel surplus of ¥1.12 trillion, as the yen’s depreciation attracted foreign visitors to Japan. The travel balance turned to a surplus on a calendar year basis for the first time since 1962, the ministry said.

The number of foreign tourists visiting Japan climbed 47.1 percent in 2015 from the previous year to a record 19.74 million, with shopping sprees by Chinese tourists continuing to draw attention.

“The travel surplus is likely to continue to help offset the trade deficit,” becoming a major factor contributing to Japan’s current account surplus, Nagai said.

The services sector, also including passenger transportation and cargo shipping, posted a deficit of ¥1.56 trillion last year, down sharply from a ¥3.08 trillion deficit.

The surplus in the primary income account, which reflects how much Japan earns from foreign investments, increased 14.7 percent to ¥20.78 trillion, due mainly to a rise in profits from direct and securities investments amid the weakening yen.

The yen declined versus the U.S. dollar by 14.5 percent to ¥121.09 from the year before on an average basis in 2015, the ministry said.

In December alone, Japan posted a current account surplus for the 18th consecutive month, with the balance standing at ¥960.7 billion. Goods trade registered a surplus of ¥188.7 billion following a deficit in November.