Japan posted a customs-cleared trade surplus of 955.7 billion yen for February, swinging back into the black from a 351 billion yen deficit in January, the Finance Ministry said Thursday.
The surplus was down 11.8 percent from the previous year as record-high oil prices inflated the value of imports, the ministry said in a preliminary report. The negative figure for January was the first monthly deficit in five years.
Exports rose 20.8 percent to 5.85 trillion yen, up for the 27th straight month, while imports climbed 30.2 percent to 4.9 trillion yen, up for 24 months in a row, it said.
The margin of growth in exports was the largest since April 1997 and for imports was the biggest since July 1996, underscoring the nation’s brisk global trade, particularly in Asia.
Imports of crude oil jumped 85.9 percent in value terms due to record-high crude oil prices, which averaged $60.90 per barrel in February on a customs-cleared basis, up 48 percent from the prior year.
Economists project that the overall trend in Japan’s trade balance will remain favorable in the coming months, citing a weak yen and steady growth in the U.S. economy.
Rising imports spurred by high oil prices and solid domestic demand are likely to dent the trade surplus, but a projected growth in exports, buoyed by a weak, yen is likely to limit the reduction, said Hitoshi Asaoka, an economist at Mitsubishi Research Institute Inc.
“We are expecting sound growth in the U.S. economy in the January-March quarter,” Asaoka said. “And given a weak yen and a pickup in exports to Asia, Japan’s trade balance will remain positive in the months ahead.”
Japan’s trade surplus with the rest of Asia expanded 40.9 percent to 757.5 billion yen, a turnaround from a 165.6 billion yen deficit.
January’s trade deficit primarily stemmed from sharp falls in exports to other Asian economies given one-time factors, including the lunar New Year holidays.