Japan's trade sector started out the year on a strong note though it slipped into deficit for the first time in eight months due to higher oil prices and seasonal factors.
Customs data released Monday showed imports rose 8 percent from a year earlier to 7.03 trillion yen ($66 billion). Exports jumped 12 percent to 6.09 trillion yen ($57.1 billion), leaving a deficit of 943.4 billion yen ($8.8 billion).
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Exports to China jumped 30 percent from a year earlier.
Oil prices have gained over the past year, rising from about $55 per barrel in January 2017 to more than $70 per barrel for part of last month. As a resource-scarce nation, Japan imports nearly all of its non-renewable energy needs. Imports of oil, gas and coal jumped nearly 10 percent in January from a year earlier, to almost 1.6 trillion yen ($15 billion).
Japan's trade surplus with the U.S. fell 12 percent as exports edged higher to 1.07 trillion yen ($1 billion). Surging shipments of liquefied petroleum gas, soybeans and machinery helped push imports up 9 percent year-on-year to 717 billion yen ($6.7 billion).
Harumi Taguchi, an economist for HIS Markit, said the timing of new year and lunar new year holidays likely pushed the balance into deficit. But she added that "the overall trend for exports is likely to remain solid thanks to sustained brisk machinery orders from overseas, which will contribute to maintaining Japan's trade surplus over the near term."
The yen has recently gained in value, which could stunt exports in coming months, though for now it is mostly reducing costs for imports and exports since more than half of all of Japan's exports and imports are contracted in dollars, Taguchi said.