The trade surplus dropped 30.7 percent in June from a year earlier to 846 billion yen, marking its first fall in three months as exports sputtered, the Finance Ministry said Thursday.
The June trade surplus put the surplus for the January-June period at 4.38 trillion yen, down 10.1 percent from a year earlier, according to a preliminary report. The data cast a shadow over prospects for the economy, whose recovery relies on external demand.
In June alone, exports fell for the first time in 15 months, down 0.04 percent to 4.43 trillion yen. Imports rose 11.6 percent to 3.58 trillion yen for the 10th straight monthly increase.
The trade surplus with the United States fell 21.7 percent to 483.1 billion yen, logging its sixth straight monthly drop, with exports down 12 percent to 1.08 trillion yen and imports down 2.3 percent to 598.5 billion yen.
The surpluses with other parts of Asia and the 15-member European Union, which had risen in recent months, also decreased in June.
The surplus with the EU dropped for the first time in six months, down 11 percent to 216.9 billion yen. The surplus with the rest of Asia fell for the first time in 16 months, down 20.5 percent to 453.8 billion yen, as the pace of growth in imports outpaced the growth in exports.
A Finance Ministry official said the drop in overall exports in June occurred partly because companies shifted production of items such as video games and semiconductor equipment to their overseas plants.
The strengthening of the yen against the dollar, which rose 6 percent from a year earlier to an average of 117.74 in June, also adversely affected exports.
Crude oil and petroleum products led the increase in imports. This was apparently in response to the possibility of power shortages in the Tokyo area due to the shutdown of nuclear plants run by Tokyo Electric Power Co., the official said.
In the January-June period, exports increased 3.9 percent to 26.32 trillion yen. But the expansion was outpaced by imports, which grew 7.2 percent to a record 21.94 trillion yen.
Crude oil and petroleum products led the increase in imports, which grew in size as companies stocked up in the runup to the war in Iraq, the ministry official said. An oil price hike linked to the war also pushed up the figures.
The surplus with the U.S. fell 12.9 percent to 3.21 trillion yen, the first drop in three half-year periods. Exports fell 9.8 percent to 6.68 trillion yen and imports dropped 6.8 percent to 3.48 trillion yen.
The surplus with the EU rose 25.4 percent to 1.41 trillion yen. Exports rose 11 percent to 4.18 trillion yen, and imports rose 4.8 percent to 2.76 trillion yen.
The surplus with the rest of Asia jumped 31.8 percent to 2.36 trillion yen. Exports rose 11.6 percent to 11.88 trillion yen and imports expanded 7.5 percent to 9.52 trillion yen.
The trade data are measured on a customs-cleared basis before adjustment for seasonal factors.