Cheap oil gives Ja­pan 1st trade sur­plus in nearly 3 years


Ja­pan posted its first monthly trade sur­plus in nearly three years in March thanks to fall­ing im­port costs from cheaper oil prices, along with a mod­est re­cov­ery in ex­ports.

But the stronger-than-ex­pected sur­plus is un­likely to persist, an­a­lysts said.

Ja­pan re­lies on im­ports for vir­tu­ally all of its oil, gas and coal. Oil prices al­ready have be­gun to re­cover from the trough of be­low US$50 they hit ear­lier this year and have yet to be re­flected in Ja­pan’s im­ports.

“What’s more, we ex­pect the yen to weaken fur­ther in com­ing months, which should lift the cost of im­ports by more than the yen-value of ex­ports. The up­shot is that the trade bal­ance is un­likely to re­main in sur­plus for long,” Mar­cel Thieliant of Cap­i­tal Eco­nomics said in a com­men­tary.

The Fi­nance Min­istry said Wed­nes­day that pre­lim­i­nary data showed a 14.5 per­cent drop in im­ports in March from a year ear­lier, to 6.7 tril­lion yen (US$55.6 bil­lion). Ex­ports climbed 8.5 per­cent from a year ear­lier to 6.9 tril­lion yen (US$57.9 bil­lion), leav­ing a sur­plus of 229.3 bil­lion yen (US$1.9 bil­lion).

Based on pre­lim­i­nary data for Oc­to­ber to March, Ja­pan logged a trade deficit of 9.1 tril­lion yen (US$76 bil­lion) in the fis­cal year from April 2014 to March 2015, it said. Ex­ports rose 5.4 per­cent from the year be­fore, while im- ports fell 1 per­cent.

Ja­pan’s trade bal­ance slipped into deficits af­ter the March 2011 earth­quake, tsunami and nu­clear dis­as­ters led to a clo­sure of its nu­clear plants. Costs for im­ports of oil and gas soared to com­pen­sate.

Ja­pan’s im­ports of oil, gas, coal and other fu­els fell 37 per­cent in March from a year ear­lier, to 1.77 tril­lion yen (US$14.8 bil­lion).

The last time the coun­try ran a monthly trade sur­plus was in June 2012.

The re­cov­ery in the U.S. econ­omy, Ja­pan’s big­gest ex­port mar­ket, also helped boost ship­ments of cars and ma­chin­ery. Ja­pan’s ex­ports to the U.S. jumped 21 per­cent in March from the year be­fore, while im­ports climbed 24 per­cent, lead­ing to a sur­plus of 603 bil­lion yen (US$5 bil­lion).

Ja­pan’s im­ports from China, mean­while, fell al­most 20 per­cent, partly due to the Chi­nese Lu­nar New Year hol­i­days, while its ex­ports to China rose al­most 4 per­cent.

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