Business / Economy

Japan saw first goods trade surplus in four months in October

Kyodo

Japan logged a goods trade surplus for the first time in four months in October after a plunge in imports amid falling crude oil and other commodities prices more than offset a drop in exports, government data showed Wednesday.

The country’s goods trade surplus stood at ¥17.27 billion ($159 million), marking a turnaround from a revised ¥124.82 billion deficit in September, according to a preliminary report by the Finance Ministry.

In the reporting month, exports dropped 9.2 percent from a year earlier to ¥6.58 trillion, marking the 11th consecutive monthly decline, hit by weakening demand for vehicles and aircraft parts from the United States.

But imports plunged 14.8 percent, falling for the sixth straight month, as shipments of crude oil, liquefied natural gas and other energy commodities decreased in both value and volume.

A ministry official said the drop in exports and imports was also partly attributable to heavy rains and a powerful typhoon that hit Japan in the reporting month, which disrupted supply chains and suspended factory operations.

Private-sector economists said the Oct. 1 increase in the consumption tax appears to have led to a drop in imports, but that it is difficult to assess the impact because the natural disasters apparently played a larger part.

“While exports are expected to remain sluggish because of the U.S.-China trade war, imports are also likely to decrease amid weak domestic demand following the tax increase,” said Toru Suehiro, senior market economist at Mizuho Securities Co.

Suehiro forecasts Japan’s trade balance will move narrowly around the break-even line for the time being.

By region, exports to China fell 10.3 percent from a year earlier to ¥1.32 trillion, weighed down by declining shipments of plastic raw materials and auto parts.

Imports from Japan’s biggest trading partner sank 15.4 percent to ¥1.59 trillion, leaving Japan with a deficit with China for the 19th straight month, at ¥269.87 billion.

Meanwhile, Japan’s trade surplus against the whole of Asia, including China, grew 36.7 percent to ¥299.56 billion, helped by increased shipments of steel products to Thailand.

Among other partners, Japan’s trade surplus with the United States shrank 2.7 percent from a year earlier to ¥557.54 billion amid sluggish auto-related exports.

With the European Union, Japan ran a deficit of ¥46.46 billion, due partly to a decline in exports of aircraft engine parts to the United Kingdom.

The figures were compiled on a customs-cleared basis.