Japan posted a trade deficit of 897.7 billion yen in February, a record for the month, hurt by higher energy imports and a weaker yen, the Finance Ministry said Thursday amid concern about slowing export growth.
Imports increased 8.3 percent from a year earlier to 8.55 trillion yen, while exports rose 6.5 percent to 7.65 trillion yen, according to the ministry's preliminary data. Both were the highest for February since comparable data became available in 1979.
A weaker yen continued to inflate the value of imports, including coal, liquefied natural gas and crude oil. The yen was 13.5 percent lower than a year earlier relative to the U.S. dollar.
Japan was in the red for the 19th straight month, underscoring the vulnerability of the resource-scarce nation that relies heavily on imports.
After a record 3.5 trillion yen deficit in January, economists said the nation will likely see a reduction in the red ink as commodity prices stabilize following a surge last year and the yen's rapid depreciation takes a respite.
But the outlook for export growth appears increasingly uncertain amid global financial concerns in the light of aggressive interest rate hikes in major economies and a recent market rout triggered by the collapse of two U.S. banks, they added.
"The export numbers for China and Asian nations that have close ties with it came out weak, even when we consider the negative impact of the Lunar New Year holidays, and growth in exports to the United States and Europe also look like slowing," said Chisato Oshiba, an economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.
Japanese companies curb China-bound shipments during the Chinese New Year holidays, which came earlier than last year in January.
Japan had a trade surplus of 530.5 billion yen with the United States, helped by increased shipments of cars, medicines and machinery.
Exports jumped 14.9 percent to 1.46 trillion yen and imports rose 6.6 percent to 925.6 billion yen.
Japan registered a trade deficit of 209.8 billion yen with major trading partner China, with slightly higher imports than exports.
Imports stood at 1.53 trillion yen, down 0.6 percent from a year earlier, compared with exports that fell 10.9 percent to 1.32 trillion yen.
With the rest of Asia, including China, Japan ran a trade surplus of 392.3 billion yen, while a 119.7 billion yen deficit was registered with the European Union.
"Following the end of its 'zero-COVID' policy China's economy may turn out relatively strong, so we need to see more data. The U.S. economy, on the other hand, remains resilient, but we will likely see the (negative) impact of monetary tightening on the manufacturing sector, which will be a negative for Japanese exports," Oshiba said.© KYODO
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