The nation’s current account surplus in January soared 72.2 percent from a year earlier to 807.5 billion yen, the largest for January, the Finance Ministry said Monday.

The previous record was 777.3 billion yen set in January 1994.

A sharp drop in the value of imports because of a plunge in crude oil prices, coupled with sluggish domestic demand, outweighed a decline in exports, the ministry said in a preliminary report.

Imports tumbled 24.5 percent to 2.4 trillion yen, with a 49.2 percent decline in crude oil. Exports fell 10.9 percent to 3.33 trillion yen, with office equipment down 18.4 percent.

It was the 13th consecutive month that imports fell, and the biggest fall in 12 years, the ministry said. However, a ministry official expressed hope that the surplus figure would decrease if the country’s economy recovers — prompting a rise in imports.

The current account is considered the best gauge of the country’s international standing because it not only measures trade in goods and services but also investment flows between countries and foreign aid.

Trade in goods and services during the month resulted in a surplus of 425.4 billion yen, up 1,989 percent. The surge was attributed to the swollen merchandise trade surplus at 927.3 billion yen, also the biggest for January, up 67 percent from the same month in 1998.

The setback in January exports is attributable to drops of 20.7 percent in shipments of optical equipment, 18.4 percent in exports of office equipment, and 17.2 percent in shipments of semiconductors and related electronic parts.

The import decline was led by the 49.2 percent plunge in imports of crude oil, followed by a 31.8 percent slide in liquefied natural gas and a 27.2 percent slump in clothes and related items. The service deficit shrank to 501.8 billion yen from 534.7 billion yen a year before, mainly due to a smaller deficit in sea and air transport.

The income account, which covers the income from Japanese investment in foreign securities and payments by foreign employers to workers in Japan, saw a surplus of 465.1 billion yen, down 69.7 billion yen from a year earlier.

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