• Kyodo

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Japan’s current account surplus in the first half of fiscal 2020 plummeted to the lowest level in over five years, as exports and inbound travelers sharply decreased amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, government data showed Tuesday.

The surplus in the current account, one of the widest gauges of international trade, fell 36.2% from a year earlier to ¥6.69 trillion ($64 billion) in the April-September period, the smallest since the ¥5.89 trillion logged in the second half of fiscal 2014, the Finance Ministry said in a preliminary report.

Still, it marked the 13th straight six-month period in the black.

Among key components, goods trade marked a narrow surplus of ¥9.5 billion, swinging back into the black from a ¥110.9 billion deficit in the previous year.

Exports tumbled 19.2% from a year ago to ¥30.30 trillion, as shipments of cars and auto parts to North America dived with demand dampened by the pandemic.

Imports declined 19.5% to ¥30.29 trillion, hit by falling prices of crude oil from the Middle East and other resources such as liquefied natural gas.

Services trade, which includes cargo shipping and passenger transportation, ran a deficit of ¥2.27 trillion, the largest amount of red ink since the first half of fiscal 2007, dragged down by a more than 90% dive in the travel surplus from ¥1.4 trillion a year earlier to ¥129.8 billion.

The travel balance, which indicates the amount of money foreign tourists use in the country for hotels, shopping and leisure activities against the spending of Japanese travelers abroad, largely deteriorated as the arrival of overseas visitors almost stopped amid strict travel restrictions across the globe to curb the spread of the virus.

The surplus in the primary income account, which reflects returns on foreign investment, decreased 10.7% to ¥10.36 trillion, due to a decline of bond interests.

In September alone, Japan logged a current account surplus of ¥1.66 trillion, marking the 75th straight month of black ink and up from a year ago for the first time since February.

“We had seen large drops in monthly car exports since the virus outbreak, but the year-on-year decline became considerably smaller, which helped the goods trade balance improve,” a ministry official told reporters.

The goods trade logged a ¥918.4 billion surplus, turning positive from a ¥14.2 billion deficit a year earlier. Services trade had a deficit of ¥237.4 billion and primary income registered a surplus of ¥1.71 trillion.

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