Japan’s Current-Account Surplus Widens to Biggest Since 2008

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Japan's Trade Balance
A container is loaded onto the Trinity container ship at a shipping terminal in Tokyo. Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg

Japan’s current-account surplus widened to the most since 2008 in March, helped by an improvement in the trade balance and increased income from overseas.

Japan had a 2.8 trillion yen ($23 billion dollars) excess in its broadest measure of trade, the finance ministry said on Wednesday. The result was wider than a median estimate of 2.1 trillion yen in a Bloomberg survey of economists.

A cheaper energy import bill, combined with an influx of tourists attracted by a weaker yen and increasing income from investments abroad by Japanese companies are helping to increase the surplus. The boost aids an economy that’s weighed down by sluggish spending by consumers and businesses at home.

“The current account is improving in all aspects,” Minoru Nogimori, an economist at Nomura Holdings Inc. said before the data was released. “It is definitely positive for the economy as it means that Japan is accumulating wealth from abroad.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is trying to steer the world’s third-biggest economy out of two decades of stagnation with a reflationary policy that has driven down the yen by nearly 30 percent against the dollar since he took office in December 2012. The currency traded at 119.83 versus its U.S. counterpart at 8:59 a.m. in Tokyo, little changed from before the data.

Japan’s crude oil import bill fell by 751 billion yen in March compared with a year earlier, after oil prices tumbled, according to separate data released last month.

Increasing Tourism

The increase in tourists coming to Japan and rising income from intellectual property pushed the services balance into surplus for the first time in comparable data back to 1985, the finance ministry said. The primary income surplus of 2.3 trillion yen was the most in any month since 1985.

The current-account surplus is likely to remain at current levels for the time being, barring a steep rebound in petroleum prices, said Nogimori.

Japan’s emergence from a recession last year was weaker than first estimated as companies unexpectedly cut investment.

The government is scheduled to report first-quarter gross domestic product data next week. The economy grew an annualized 1.6 percent, according to preliminary results of a survey of economists by Bloomberg.

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