• Kyodo

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Led by higher exports amid a weaker yen and lower oil imports, Japan logged a current account surplus for the seventh consecutive month in January, with the balance standing at ¥61.4 billion, ($509 million), the government said Monday in a preliminary report.

The balance, which reverses a deficit of ¥1.59 trillion from the year before, marked Japan’s first surplus in the month since 2011, the Finance Ministry said. The size of the improvement was the largest since comparable data became available in 1985.

Exports grew 15.3 percent from a year earlier to ¥6.33 trillion, while imports fell 8.9 percent to ¥7.20 trillion, pushing down the goods trade deficit by ¥1.54 trillion to ¥864.2 billion, the ministry said.

The smaller trade deficit reflects higher exports of such goods as automobiles and electronic parts, while imports of crude oil plunged 40.5 percent amid sharply declining prices.

The improvement can also be traced to the timing of the Chinese New Year holiday season, which began in February this year, a ministry official said. Demand in China typically grows before the season starts.

Oil prices sank 43.8 percent in January from the previous to an average of $63.75 per barrel, the ministry said.

Yuichiro Nagai, an economist at Barclays Securities Japan Ltd., said the current account balance is likely to stay in a surplus trend in coming months because the trade balance is expected to continue improving.

“Exports started to increase on a volume basis since last autumn, helping to improve the trade balance,” backed by the economic recovery in the United States and Southeast Asia, he said.

Also lifting the current account surplus was the primary income account, which reflects how much Japan earns from its foreign investments. The figure rose for the seventh consecutive month to ¥1.41 trillion.

The primary income account balance was the second-largest for January since comparable data became available in 1985, as the weakening of the yen helped raise dividends from foreign direct investment.

The services sector, including passenger transportation and cargo shipping, posted a deficit of ¥401.3 billion, as expenses for such purposes as oil drilling surveys more than offset a surplus in travel balance payments, the ministry said.

The yen sank against the dollar by 13.8 percent year-on-year in the reporting month to an average of ¥118.24. It rose against the euro by 3.0 percent to ¥137.27, the ministry said.

A weak yen usually supports exports by making Japanese products cheaper abroad. It also bolsters the value of overseas revenues in yen terms, though it pushes up prices of imported goods.

Japan depends on imports for more than 90 percent of its energy needs and 60 percent of its food supply.

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