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Japan probably remained the world’s top creditor nation in 1999 for the ninth straight year, with net external assets of 84.74 trillion yen at the end of December, despite a plunge in assets due to reduced overseas loans by Japanese banks.

The net external assets were down 36.4 percent from a year earlier, according to a Finance Ministry report released Friday.

Although 1999 data for most other major industrial nations are not yet available, Japan seems certain to retain the top spot, because Germany was a distant second at the end of 1998 with 3.26 trillion yen in net overseas assets.

Net external assets are assets held overseas by the government, businesses and individuals, minus liabilities. Japan’s gross external assets at the end of 1999 came to 307.99 trillion yen, down 10.8 percent from the previous year.

Its gross external debt stood at 223.25 trillion yen, up 5.4 percent, following an 8.3 percent fall in the previous year.

The assets plummeted mainly because Japanese banks withdrew a substantial amount of loans from abroad. The yen’s appreciation against the dollar also eroded the value of Japanese assets denominated in foreign currencies.

The debt expanded partly because of increased investment in Japanese stocks by foreigners and higher stock prices. Japan’s net external assets accounted for 17.1 percent of its gross domestic product.