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Japan trade deficit narrows on export pick-up

TOKYO--Japan's trade deficit for July narrowed 6.6 percent from a year earlier, data showed Wednesday, with exports picking up on rising demand for cars and machinery.

But the shortfall was still worse than market expectations, and analysts said domestic consumption — rather than export demand — was likely to be the key economic driver in the second half of the year.

The trade figures come about a week after fresh data showed the world's number-three economy suffered its biggest quarterly contraction since the 2011 quake and tsunami as an April sales tax rise slammed the brakes on growth.

On Wednesday, Japan's finance ministry said the trade deficit last month came in at 964.0 billion yen (US$9.4 billion), down from 1.03 trillion yen a year ago.

The shortfall was still bigger than market expectations of a 700 billion yen deficit, and extended the run of trade shortfalls to a 25th straight month.

Japan's exports in July rose 3.9 percent on-year to 6.19 trillion yen, posting the first rise in three months thanks to robust shipments of automobiles, machinery and electronic equipment.

Imports rose 2.3 percent to 7.15 trillion yen, underpinned by purchases of oil and gas, which have shot up in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis, when Japan shuttered its nuclear reactors.

“July's trade deficit was larger than expected, and indicates that net trade is unlikely to provide much support to GDP growth in the third quarter,” Capital Economics said in a note.

“However, the recent improvement in external demand suggests that the shortfall will narrow further towards year-end.”

Shaky Recovery

The trade imbalance would likely narrow further as Japan looks to switch some of its atomic reactors back on, it added.

“The partial resumption of nuclear energy generation should reduce fuel imports, albeit only gradually,” the firm said.

“As a result, import volumes should rise only modestly,” it added.

“We still expect the recovery in domestic demand to resume in the second half of the year, but our forecasts foresee that it will take until early next year before domestic spending returns to the levels reached ahead of the sales tax hike.”

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Cargo is unloaded from a truck to load onto a freight vessel at the pier of a container terminal in Tokyo, Wednesday, Aug. 20.

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