• Kyodo

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Japan posted a goods trade surplus of ¥2.46 trillion ($24 billion) for the April to September half, reversing the ¥1.28 trillion deficit posted a year earlier, after imports plunged thanks to lower oil prices, the government said Monday.

The value of imports dived 19.1 percent from a year earlier to ¥31.56 trillion as imports of crude oil sank 37.3 percent and the yen’s appreciation helped reduce the value of exports, the Finance Ministry said in the preliminary report.

Exports slid 9.9 percent to ¥34.02 trillion, the biggest drop since the 36.4 percent plunge in April-September of 2009, as the yen stayed firm. Slowing exports to Asia and the United States also contributed to the slide.

Despite the drop in exports, Japan managed to secure a trade surplus due to a sharper decline in imports as oil prices continued falling from a year earlier, though they have started to recover recently.

Oil prices fell 26 percent to $43.6 per barrel on average during the six-month period compared with a year earlier. The yen, meanwhile, climbed 12.8 percent to an average of ¥106.14 against the dollar, the ministry said.

Japan heavily depends on imports for its energy needs now that most of its commercial nuclear reactors are offline as the public grapples with safety concerns raised by the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

“As crude oil prices are returning to the level seen last autumn, in which prices have started declining, we need to monitor how long declines in imports would continue because of cheap crude oil,” a ministry official said.

Tsutomu Saito, an economist at the Daiwa Institute of Research, said Japan’s exports were not as bad as they appeared, as the decline mainly resulted from the yen’s appreciation, but trade activities have been slowing on a global basis due to weak capital investments that contribute to increasing both imports and exports.

As the ratio of capital spending is decreasing compared with global economic growth, “sluggish trade activities are likely to continue taking place globally,” Saito said.

Shipments to the United States shrank 10.6 percent to ¥6.71 trillion, while imports from the world’s largest economy fell 12.6 percent to ¥3.59 trillion.

Exports to China, another major destination for Japanese products, shed 10.8 percent to ¥5.97 trillion, while imports fell 15.6 percent to ¥8.16 trillion.

Exports to the European Union dipped 0.2 percent to ¥3.89 trillion and imports from the 28-nation bloc sank 8.4 percent to ¥3.91 trillion.

In September alone, Japan posted a goods trade surplus of ¥498.3 billion following a deficit in August, as exports fell 6.9 percent from a year earlier to ¥5.97 trillion, while imports decreased 16.3 percent to ¥5.47 trillion, according to the ministry’s preliminary data.

The figures were measured on a customs-cleared basis.

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