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Japan posts first annual trade surplus since Fukushima
by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) Jan 25, 2017

Japan on Wednesday reported its first annual trade surplus since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster sent the country's energy import bills soaring.

The government trade data showed imports in 2016 fell nearly 16 percent, mainly due to the falling cost of crude oil and liquified natural gas.

That left Japan with a 4.07 trillion yen ($35.8 billion) annual trade surplus last year, the first since 2010.

A quake-triggered tsunami swamped the Fukushima plant in 2011, sending some reactors into meltdown and setting off the worst nuclear accident in a generation.

Japan's energy bill skyrocketed in the years after the disaster as the country turned to pricey fossil fuel alternatives.

Lower energy prices have helped take pressure off Japan's trade balance.

The data on Wednesday also showed that exports rose in December for the first time in more than a year, as demand picked up for Japan-made auto parts and semiconductors.

Exports rose 5.4 percent, with an increase in shipments to the US, China and other Asian countries while overall December imports fell 2.6 percent.

"The first rise in export values in more than a year reflects a combination of soaring export volumes and the recent depreciation of the yen," Capital Economics said in a commentary.

"However, a weaker exchange rate tends to lift import prices by more than it boosts the yen-value of shipments, so the trade surplus has started to fall again."

Japan had a December trade surplus of 641.4 billion yen, the fourth in a row and up from 150.8 billion yen in November.

The data offered some good news for the world's number three economy as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe tries to kickstart growth with a plan dubbed Abenomics.

Last month, Japan released revised data that showed third-quarter GDP expanded by a weaker-than-expected 0.3 percent, partly due to slack corporate spending.

The tepid figures were lower than an initial estimate of 0.5 percent growth in the July-September period.

Inflation and consumer spending have been weak, and firms have been reluctant to boost wages, dragging on Abe's plans to buoy Japan's once-booming economy.

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