Japan trade surplus leaps on strong exports to rest of Asia

By ELAINE KURTENBACH Markets Associated Press

Japan's trade surplus leaped nearly 38 percent in September from a year earlier, on strong shipments of cars, car parts and machinery to China and the U.S., according to customs data released Thursday.

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Exports rose 14 percent year-on-year in value to 6.8 trillion yen ($60.3 billion) while imports climbed 12 percent to 6.1 trillion yen ($54.3 billion).

Exports to China surged 29 percent in value, while exports to the U.S. were up 11 percent.

Japan's trade surplus with the U.S. climbed 5 percent from a year earlier to 616.6 billion yen ($5.5 billion). The perennial surplus is a sore point with U.S. President Donald Trump, who is due to visit Japan early next month ahead of annual regional summits in Asia.

The 670.2 billion yen ($5.9 billion) overall surplus compared with a 486.6 billion yen surplus in September 2016. The surplus was dented, however, by rising costs for imports of coal, natural gas and petroleum.

The recovery in overseas demand has been a key factor supporting growth in the world's third largest economy. The volume of exports in August was the highest since before the 2008 global financial crisis, and surveys of manufacturers suggest that net trade is driving growth, Marcel Thieliant of Capital Economics said in a commentary.

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"However, we are forecasting a slowdown in overseas GDP growth next year so exports should grow less rapidly," Thieliant said. "We expect export growth to slow from 6 percent this year to 3.5 percent next year."

China's economy has performed better than anticipated this year, helping support demand for imports from across the region. But regulators are trying to cool growth to stem a worrisome buildup in debt, and growth is likely to slip from the 6.8 percent annual pace in the July-September quarter.