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The current account surplus swelled 50.3 percent in April from a year earlier to 1.99 trillion yen for the fourth straight monthly increase, spurred by firm exports and income account gains, the Finance Ministry said Wednesday.

The current account surplus hit its highest level for the month of April and the third-highest for any month since comparable data became available in January 1985, the ministry said in a preliminary report.

The income surplus, net income from Japanese investments overseas, gained 41.5 percent to 1.56 trillion yen. It grew as interest income and stock dividends from overseas investment increased, a ministry official said.

The size of the income account surplus surpassed that of the merchandise trade surplus for the fourth straight month, underlining that the economy depends more on returns from overseas investments than on earnings from exports, economists said.

“As the income account surplus is likely to continue rising gradually, the structure in which Japan’s current account surplus relies on the income account gains will remain unchanged for now,” said Maiko Noguchi, senior economist at Daiwa Securities SMBC Co.

Noguchi said although export growth has remained modest recently, it is expected to pick up from around the end of the year in line with a rebound in private consumption in the United States.

“We believe the slowdown in the U.S. economy will not lead to a sharp drop in private consumption there, and exports to the rest of Asia’s economies have remained firm,” she said.

The surplus in goods and services trade rose 76.2 percent to 529.2 billion yen as the surplus in merchandise trade more than offset the deficit in the services account.

The surplus in merchandise trade grew 34.7 percent to 1.03 trillion yen.

Exports increased 7.3 percent to 6.28 trillion yen, up for the 41st consecutive month, while imports climbed 3.2 percent to 5.24 trillion yen, a turnaround from a 1.0 percent fall in March.

Both exports and imports posted their highest figures for any April since 1985, the ministry official said.

Steel exports grew 25.7 percent and auto exports rose 8.7 percent. Imports of nonferrous metals expanded 28.5 percent and those of aircraft jumped 304.4 percent, while imports of crude oil slipped 16.6 percent, reflecting recent drops in crude oil prices in international markets.

Crude oil prices dipped 0.8 percent to an average $60.79 per barrel in April from a year earlier, down for the third month in a row.

Trade in services marked a deficit of 505.1 billion yen, partly because the number of foreigners visiting Japan fell from a year earlier, the ministry said.

The current account balance — the broadest gauge of trade — is the difference between a nation’s income from foreign sources and foreign obligations payable, excluding net capital investment.

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Current account surplus up

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