Japan surplus up, China now biggest trade partner
Japan's trade surplus expanded slightly in December from the same month a year earlier, government data showed on Wednesday, but worries persist that moderating demand from overseas will continue hurting exports.
The data also showed that China including Hong Kong became Japan's biggest trading partner in 2004, replacing the United States for the first time and reflecting China's growing clout in the global economy.
Japan's trade surplus in December rose 1.8 per cent from a year earlier to 1.142 trillion yen ($10.98 billion) and was down 3.9 per cent from November on a seasonally adjusted basis.
The surplus was in line with a median market forecast of 1.14 trillion yen or a rise of 1.6 per cent from the previous year.
Exports rose 8.8 per cent in December from a year earlier to 5.4 trillion yen, thanks to exports of steel, organic compounds and automobile parts, while imports increased 10.9 per cent to 4.3 trillion yen mainly due to higher oil prices.
"On a value basis exports came in as expected, but on a volume basis they were a bit disappointing, " said senior economist at Deutsche Securities, Seiji Adachi. "Growth in export volume for both the US and Asia slowed and that is worrying for the global economy."
Japan's economy grew just 0.1 per cent in July-September from the previous three months, and weak external demand became a negative contributor to third-quarter growth for the first time in eight quarters, capping industrial output.
Analysts' views on the outlook for exports remain mixed. Some say demand from the US and Chinese economies will continue to edge down in the coming months.
"On a seasonally adjusted basis, exports and imports were down, reflecting a slowdown in overseas economies which is not big but is having an effect. There is also some impact from the yen's appreciation," said economist at Morgan Stanley, Osamu Tanaka.