Japanese trade surplus hits dollars 60bn: Yen boosts dollar value of exports - Gap with US expands again

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The Independent Online
THE JAPANESE trade surplus swelled to a record dollars 60.07bn in the six months to September, up from dollars 52.13bn in the same six-month period a year earlier, as the soaring yen lifted the dollar value of Japan's exports.

During the month, the surplus widened to dollars 12.73bn from dollars 12.08bn a year earlier, the 33rd consecutive monthly increase. After adjustment for seasonal influences, it climbed by dollars 670m to dollars 9.59bn. Japan again registered a large surplus with its most important trading partner, the US, inviting renewed pressure from the Clinton administration for more open Japanese markets. The bilateral surplus expanded to an unadjusted dollars 5.67bn during September, up from dollars 4.84bn in the same month a year ago.

Economists nevertheless think it unlikely that the yen will resume climbing against the dollar in the next few weeks. But an eventual appreciation of the yen is all but inevitable, according to Mark Cliffe, chief economist of Nomura Research Institute.

Japan's trade surplus appears to have peaked in yen terms, and the yen's appreciation has curbed real export growth and weakened the growth of the volume of imports. But it may take several months more before the trade surplus reaches its peak in dollar terms, which is the most widely watched measure of Japan's trade performance. Gerard Lyons, of DKB International, said: 'The surplus is unlikely to peak in dollar terms before the second quarter of next year.'

The Japanese government reiterated yesterday that the accumulated impact of three fiscal stimulus packages and the recent cut in interest rates would lift domestic demand, including for imports.

But private economists argued that very little of the fiscal stimulus has come through, with much of the second package still to take effect, and all of the measures in the third package, announced last month, yet to be taken. With the economy still mired in recession, pressure is building for a further stimulus in the shape of income tax cuts.

Exports rose an unadjusted 6 per cent to dollars 33.517bn in September from a year earlier, while imports advanced by 6.4 per cent to dollars 20.791bn. Japan's bilateral surplus with the EC narrowed to dollars 2.796bn from dollars 3.483bn.