Japan ran a trade surplus of ¥113.36 billion in November amid strong exports to Asia — staying in the black for the sixth straight month — but the figure shrank from a year earlier as energy imports jumped, according to government data released Monday.
Robust exports of semiconductor manufacturing equipment to China and cars to the United States helped lift overall overseas figures by 16.2 percent to ¥6.92 trillion, the Finance Ministry said in a preliminary report. Imports rose 17.2 percent to ¥6.81 trillion, reflecting a 28.3 percent increase to ¥634 billion in the value of crude oil imports.
In November, Asia-bound exports surged 20.4 percent to ¥3.89 trillion, setting a record for that month. The surplus with Asia came to ¥439.19 billion as imports rose 19.7 percent to ¥3.46 trillion.
Both exports and imports to China hit record levels for the month of November.
Japan had a trade deficit of ¥430.98 billion with China as a 21.6 percent rise in imports, to ¥1.81 trillion, more than offset a 25.1 percent gain, to ¥1.38 trillion, in exports.
“Overseas demand was solid, particularly in China,” said Yuichiro Nagai, an economist at Barclays Securities Japan Ltd. “Despite the rapid pace of growth in exports to Asia in recent months, we haven’t seen it slowing down.”
The trade surplus with the United States expanded 13.7 percent to ¥660.05 billion. Exports expanded 13.0 percent to ¥1.37 trillion, and imports gained 12.3 percent to ¥708.56 billion.
Japan logged a deficit of ¥49.98 billion with the European Union.
Looking ahead, Nagai took a cautiously optimistic view.
“It may be difficult to expect the kind of extremely strong export growth as seen in 2017 . . . but we are not concerned about a sharp drop at the beginning of next year as the cyclical economic expansion is expected to continue,” he said.
But Norio Miyagawa, a senior economist at Mizuho Securities Co., said, “We can expect exports will remain strong enough to lead Japan’s economy, with solid demand from U.S. and China.”
He cited global demand for semiconductors and IT-related goods.
“Without any sign of weakening in exports, Japan’s economy will probably keep recovering gradually,” Miyagawa said. “The BOJ must be gaining confidence in the economy with today’s export data.”
The November data confirms the strength of global demand after signs of softening in October, said Atsushi Takeda, an economist at Itochu Corp. in Tokyo.
“The general trend hasn’t shifted a great deal from last month, but the positive aspects are clearer with this month’s data,” he said. The figures were on a customs-cleared basis.