Japan’s current account surplus shrank in January from a year earlier for two months in a row, as higher oil prices amid tension over Iraq pushed up import figures and eroded the trade surplus.

The current account surplus came to 427.1 billion yen, down 37.6 percent, compared with a 1.4 percent fall in December, the Finance Ministry said Wednesday in a preliminary report.

The current account is the broadest gauge of trade, measuring the difference between a country’s income from foreign sources and foreign obligations payable, excluding net capital investment. It combines trade, services, income and current transfers.

The smaller surplus partly stems from the smaller trade surplus — exports minus imports, which fell 22.1 percent to 265.3 billion yen in January. Exports increased 8.6 percent to 3.66 trillion yen, surpassed by imports, which rose 12.1 percent to 3.4 trillion yen.

January’s data were largely affected by oil prices, ministry officials said. Crude oil prices on average stood at $28.17 a barrel, up 46.1 percent from a year earlier, the fifth straight monthly rise.

The rising oil prices, as well as the suspension of Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s nuclear plants for special inspections after a report coverup, increased imports of crude oil and petroleum products in the month, they said.

Another factor contributing to the smaller current account surplus is a larger deficit in services. The deficit rose by 33.9 billion yen to 457 billion yen, as the number of tourists heading overseas increased from a year earlier. The rise followed a sharp fall in 2001 stemming from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

As a result, the deficit in goods and services combined grew 132.5 percent year-on-year to 191.6 billion yen.

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