Japanese trade surplus reaches record dollars 49bn

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TOKYO (Agencies) - A sharp rise in exports saw Japan's trade surplus rise to a record dollars 49.03bn ( pounds 25.74bn) in the first six months of the year, the Japanese Finance Ministry said yesterday. This was half as large again as the surplus in the first half of 1991.

The increase, fuelled by an 8.6 per cent increase in exports, raises sensitive questions about whether Japanese companies are specifically targeting foreign markets while their own languishes.

'Strong exports may make it seem that some companies here are trying to export themselves out of recession,' said Chiharu Shima, an economist at UBS Phillips and Drew.

Exports climbed to dollars 163.29bn in the first six months of 1992 against dollars 150.33bn in the same period a year earlier. Imports in the first half were 3.3 per cent lower than a year earlier.

Japan chalked up a trade surplus of dollars 16.6bn with the European Community, up 15.3 per cent and a half-yearly high. Exports to the EC rose 5.7 per cent to dollars 32.1bn, led by sales of cars and office equipment.

Imports declined 3 per cent to dollars 15.5bn, reflecting a plunge in purchases of aircraft and art.

The possibility that Japanese companies may be trying to recoup lost business at the expense of foreign companies is likely to intensify criticism of Japan's trade surplus, which Tokyo has blamed on slow imports.

But Japanese trade negotiators have been quick to deny that Japanese companies would turn to overseas markets to compensate for shrinking domestic demand.

Some local economists say the powerful Ministry of International Trade and Industry is keeping close tabs on firms with especially healthy export growth and may try to restrain at least some more aggressive exporters.

While the numbers themselves may be damning in the eyes of Japan's main trading partners, some analysts say they are the natural consequence of Japanese competitiveness and business trends abroad.

Ken Courtis, an economist at DB Capital Markets, said that heavy capital spending by Japanese companies had simply left them more competitive than companies in other nations.

Economists say that combination adds up to a new seasonally adjusted record surplus for 1992 as a whole. This could reach dollars 130bn - well above the dollars 103.1bn record last year.

Trade data for the month of June were also released yesterday, showing a surplus of dollars 8.97bn, up from dollars 7.23bn a year earlier.

It was the 18th successive monthly rise over the previous year and was 14 per cent up on May's surplus.