• Kyodo

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Weighed down by the novel coronavirus pandemic, Japan's current account surplus for August fell from a year earlier for the sixth straight month, although at a slower pace in line with a gradual resumption of economic activity, government data showed Thursday.

The surplus of the balance, one of the widest gauges of international trade, stood at ¥2.10 trillion ($19.82 billion), down 1.5 percent and staying in the black for the 74th straight month, the Finance Ministry said in a preliminary report.

The monthly drop in the surplus was the smallest since the pandemic began squeezing global trade in March. In the five months prior to August, the surplus had continuously logged double-digit year-on-year drops of up to 90 percent.

Among key components, the goods trade balance was in the black for the second consecutive month at ¥413.2 billion, up from a ¥30.4 billion surplus in the previous year, due partly to improved exports of cars, which had been hit hard by lockdowns in some major cities abroad.

Exports slid 15.5 percent to ¥5.12 trillion, with the pace of decline continuing to slacken following a 19.6 percent decline in July and a 25.1 percent fall in June. Imports fell 22.0 percent to ¥4.71 trillion mainly due to lower prices of energy resources.

The services deficit widened to ¥316.6 billion from red ink of ¥1.5 billion a year before.

A ministry official told reporters that charges Japanese companies receive for their patents and other intellectual property rights fell sharply, causing the services balance to deteriorate.

"For many Japanese firms, August is the month for receiving such fees arising in the year's second quarter, but we presume payments were smaller than usual because the pandemic dampened productive activities globally, especially in April and May," the official said.

The travel balance, which reflects the amount of money foreign visitors spend in Japan versus Japanese spending abroad, posted a ¥20.6 billion surplus, down sharply from ¥158.5 billion a year earlier, as countries continue to impose strict travel restrictions to curb the virus spread.

Primary income, reflecting the net flow of profits, interest and dividends from investments in other countries, marked a surplus of ¥2.25 trillion, down 1.9 percent, as returns from bond investments fell due to declining yields, according to the official. In the previous month, it saw a 25.1 percent fall.

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