Japan saw its first goods trade surplus in four months in July as exports to China significantly recovered from a slump stemming from the novel coronavirus pandemic, government data showed Wednesday.
Exports to China, Japan’s biggest goods trade partner, increased 8.2 percent in the reporting month from a year earlier for the first rise in seven months, helping the country log an ¥11.6 billion ($109 million) goods trade surplus, according to a preliminary report by the Finance Ministry.
But overall exports in July remained sluggish, down 19.2 percent from a year ago to ¥5.37 trillion to mark a double-digit fall for the fifth straight month, as the continued impact of the pandemic suppressed overseas demand. Exports sagged for the 20th consecutive month.
Imports dropped 22.3 percent from a year earlier to ¥5.36 trillion, down for the 15th straight month, due mainly to falling prices of crude oil imported from countries such as the United Arab Emirates and large drops in prices of liquefied natural gas and coal from Australia.
The pace of decline in July exports was slower than the 28.3 percent year-on-year drop in May, the sharpest since a 30.6 percent tumble in September 2009 in the wake of the global financial crisis, and a 26.2 percent fall in June. In March and April, exports slid 11.7 percent and 21.9 percent, respectively.
Auto-related exports, one of the economy’s key components, tumbled, with car exports sinking 30.0 percent, and those of car parts plunging 32.5 percent.
The latest monthly drop in imports was larger than the 14.4 percent shrinkage the previous month, which mainly reflected a recovery in shipments from China, where the world’s first large-scale outbreak of the coronavirus was detected earlier this year.
All figures were compiled on a customs-cleared basis.
Government data also showed Wednesday that core private-sector machinery orders dropped 7.6 percent in June from the previous month to a seven-year low, as companies remained cautious even after the end of the coronavirus state of emergency, which had put a damper on corporate activity.
The orders, which exclude those for ships and from electricity utilities due to their volatility, totaled ¥706.6 billion, the lowest since February 2013. The Cabinet Office, which compiled the data, cut its assessment again, saying that machinery orders are “decreasing.”
The office had revised down its view to seeing orders as “weakening at present” when the April data were released, and maintained it for the May orders. The state of emergency was in place during the two months.
Orders from manufacturers gained 5.6 percent to ¥298.2 billion, while those from the nonmanufacturing sector dropped 10.4 percent to ¥428.4 billion after a big gain the previous month, which had been fueled by orders from the transport sector for big items such train cars.
The data casts a pall over the outlook for the economy, which suffered a record contraction of an annualized real 27.8 percent in the April-June quarter as consumption, accounting for more than half of the nation’s gross domestic product, took a hit amid the spread of the virus.
Capital expenditure, another key component, slid 1.5 percent during the quarter, and economists say companies will likely remain cautious about stepping up investments amid persisting uncertainty over the global pandemic.
Machinery orders registered a 12.9 percent drop in the three months to June from the previous quarter, the sharpest since the October-December quarter of 2008 in the aftermath of the financial crisis, according to the Cabinet Office. For the July-September quarter, a 1.9 percent decrease is projected.
Orders from overseas, an indicator of future exports, slipped 3.9 percent to ¥539.7 billion, while total orders came to ¥1.71 trillion, down 8.4 percent.
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