Japan’s trade surplus shrank 0.2 percent in July from a year earlier to 860 billion yen for the second straight month of contraction as surging oil prices inflated the value of imports, the Finance Ministry said Wednesday.

Exports increased 14.2 percent to 6.32 trillion yen, led by auto exports to the United States, while imports climbed 16.8 percent to 5.46 trillion yen, the ministry said in a preliminary report.

Imports of crude oil jumped 25.0 percent to 942.86 billion yen on a customs-cleared basis due to a record-high average of $67.9 a barrel, up 27.5 percent from a year earlier.

Exports were led by autos — up 26.2 percent — and steel — up 16.5 percent — as the world economy logged solid growth and the yen was relatively weak against the dollar and euro.

Economists predict the trade surplus will seesaw in the coming months as exports and imports are both likely to keep increasing.

“The U.S. economy is expected to slow down, but demand for Japanese fuel-efficient vehicles — in reaction to rising gasoline prices — has been growing in the country, which should bolster Japan’s exports, along with a weak, yen” said Hitoshi Asaoka, an economist at Mitsubishi Research Institute.

“Imports are also likely to keep expanding as oil prices show no signs of abating and domestic demand remains firm,” Asaoka said.

According to the report, Japan’s trade surplus with the rest of Asia rose 1.3 percent to 681.9 billion yen for the third straight monthly increase.

Exports to the Asian economies climbed 11.6 percent to 3.01 trillion yen. Imports from the region rose 15.1 percent to 2.33 trillion yen.

In trade with China, excluding Hong Kong, exports expanded 19.6 percent to 914.1 billion yen, while imports grew 12.7 percent to 1.07 trillion yen, generating a deficit of 155.2 billion yen.

The trade surplus with the U.S. was up 19.6 percent to 776.3 billion yen, marking the 18th consecutive month of expansion.

Exports to the U.S. increased 13.8 percent to 1.45 trillion yen, while imports gained 7.6 percent to 648.1 billion yen.

The trade surplus with the European Union grew 17.7 percent to 310.5 billion yen for the ninth straight month of increase.

Exports to the 25-nation bloc rose 11.1 percent to 873.1 billion yen, and imports were up 7.7 percent to 562.6 billion yen.

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