Japan Feb trade surplus hits multi-year high

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TOKYO: Japan’s trade surplus hit a multi-year high in February, government data showed Wednesday, as exports to China rebounded after a Lunar New Year lull.

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The value of Japan’s total shipments abroad rose 11.3 percent, the most in two years, on strong demand for vehicle components and electronic parts, while imports grew 1.2 percent.

That resulted in a trade surplus of 813.4 billion yen ($7.3 billion), reversing a January deficit and more than tripling the 235.5 billion yen surplus a year ago.

The latest figures marked Japan’s highest monthly trade surplus in nearly seven years.

The export surge was largely due to the Chinese New Year falling earlier than usual this year, resulting in a
February rebound. Japan’s exports to China tend to fall during the holiday as many businesses close.

Exports to China soared 28.2 percent from the same month a year ago, creating Japan’s first trade surplus with China in five years.

Japan also posted its first trade surplus with the US in three months in February.

The figures come at a sensitive time for Japan-US trade relations.

US President Donald Trump has accused Japan of devaluing the yen to boost exports, grouping it with other countries he says are taking “advantage” of the United States.

But Takuji Okubo, chief economist and principal at Japan Macro Advisors, said Trump’s talk was unlikely to translate into measures that would seriously hurt Japan-US trade.

“I think this talk about the rise of protectionism, I think there’s a lot of hot air,” he told Bloomberg News before the trade data was released.

“For now there’s no obvious threat to the global economy, so I think it’s reasonable to expect moderate growth in global trade.”

Japan has been struggling to reverse a years-long deflationary spiral of falling prices and lacklustre growth.

The country had slipped into a long spell of trade deficits after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster prompted a move to thermal power generation and pricey fossil fuel imports.

Falling oil prices have taken pressure off Japan’s trade balance, and exports are seen as a bright light for the world’s number three economy.

But Japan’s trade surplus is likely to decline in the coming months, said Marcel Thieliant at research house Capital Economics, as energy prices rebound and the yen is expected to weaken — making dollar-priced imports more expensive.

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