The current account surplus grew 7.8 percent to 9.44 trillion yen in the first half of 2006 compared with a year earlier as the income account surplus surged, the Finance Ministry said Thursday.

It is the second consecutive half-year increase in the current account surplus.

The balance of trade in goods and services logged a 3.15 trillion yen surplus in the January-June period, down 20.2 percent from a year ago, as the surplus in merchandise trade was pared by costlier oil imports, the ministry said in the preliminary report.

The surplus in merchandise trade shrank 23.3 percent in the first half of this year from a year earlier to 4.04 trillion yen, the lowest since the ministry began compiling data in the present form in January 1985.

Exports soared 16.1 percent to a record 34.12 trillion yen, up for the ninth straight half. Imports climbed 24.7 percent to a record 30.07 trillion yen for an eighth consecutive half-year rise.

Imports of crude oil jumped 57.5 percent as the average price for the reporting period surged 37.8 percent from the previous year to $62.35 a barrel, the highest on record.

Exports of nonferrous metals shot up 56.7 percent and those of automobiles rose 22.7 percent.

The balance in services trade posted a deficit of 897.5 billion yen in the January-June period, down 32.6 percent from a year earlier and the fourth straight half-year contraction.

The income account, covering income from Japanese investments in foreign securities and payments by foreign employers in Japan, registered a record surplus of 7.03 trillion yen, up 29.9 percent from a year earlier.

The surplus in the income account expanded for the third straight half-year period as interest income and stock dividends from Japanese investment overseas grew, a ministry official said.

The size of the income account surplus has eclipsed the merchandise trade surplus for three months in a row now and has formed the largest gap yet.

The income account surplus surge underscores that the economy is seeing a structural change that makes it increasingly dependent on the income account instead of the merchandise trade account, said Takuji Aida, chief economist at Barclays Capital Japan Ltd.

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