Japan notches 20th straight monthly trade deficit in February amid soaring energy imports

TOKYO – Japan reported its 20th straight monthly trade deficit in February as soaring energy imports continued to offset the value of exported goods.

The deficit totalled 800.3 billion yen ($8 billion), up 3.5 per cent from a year earlier, according to government figures released Wednesday. It was a record deficit for the month of February but lower than January’s much larger deficit.

Resource-poor Japan relies heavily on imported oil and natural gas. Those costs have surged following the March 2011 nuclear crisis in Fukushima, which has led to all 48 of the nation’s working reactors going off line.

The 20-month streak of trade deficits is the longest since the Finance Ministry started keeping comparable records in 1979.

The number for February was much lower than the deficit of 2.8 trillion yen ($28 billion) racked up in January.

For February, Japan’s imports rose 9 per cent from a year earlier to 6.6 trillion yen ($66 billion), while exports gained nearly 10 per cent to 5.8 trillion yen ($58 billion).

Weakness in the yen since late 2012 has been a boon for exports, which are significant part of the Japanese economy, exemplified in Toyota Motor Corp., the world’s top automaker.

But a weak yen also increases the costs of imports.

The ministry said imports of computer chips and electronics goods were higher in February as the economy picked up.