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The nation’s current account surplus shrank 54.5 percent in April from a year earlier, while signs are emerging that suggest the pace of decline in exports has become moderate, the Finance Ministry said Monday.

The surplus in the current account, the broadest gauge of Japan’s trade with the rest of the world, totaled ¥630.5 billion, the ministry said in a preliminary report. The trade gauge fell for the 14th straight month.

The surplus in merchandise trade dropped 69.2 percent to ¥184.3 billion from a year before, although it narrowed at the slowest pace since last July.

The trade surplus continued for the third straight month as a decline in exports abated after dropping a record 50.4 percent in February and 46.5 percent in March.

In April, exports fell 40.6 percent to ¥3.92 trillion, while shipments of automobiles and steel products remained particularly slack. Imports decreased 37.8 percent, the same margin as in March, to ¥3.73 trillion, down for the sixth straight month.

“The tempo of decline in exports is expected to slow in the coming months as many Japanese manufacturers are benefiting from rising overseas demand, backed by stimulus measures,” said Norio Miyagawa, senior economist at Shinko Research Institute.

He said exports may start expanding on a year-to-year basis around the end of this year.

But imports will probably not recover as quickly as exports, said Miyagawa, amid continued weak domestic demand exacerbated by sharp salary cuts at many firms.

The balance of trade in goods and services posted a deficit of ¥287.3 billion, the first red ink in three months due to an expansion of the deficit in the service account, including payments in transport and tourism.

The deficit in the service account grew 19.9 percent to ¥471.7 billion, partly because fewer overseas tourists visited Japan, while more Japanese were traveling abroad amid the strengthening of the yen’s value versus other major currencies, ministry officials said.

The income surplus fell 18.5 percent to ¥1.057 trillion as money earned overseas through securities and bonds fell amid the economic downturn. The surplus narrowed for the seventh straight month.

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