Japan Policy for Weak Yen Fails to Give Exports a Lift ; Trade Figures Surprise Some Analysts as Order Books Show No Rebound

By Fackler, Martin | International Herald Tribune, April 19, 2013 | Go to article overview

Japan Policy for Weak Yen Fails to Give Exports a Lift ; Trade Figures Surprise Some Analysts as Order Books Show No Rebound


Fackler, Martin, International Herald Tribune


A Reuters poll showed that sentiment remained negative among manufacturers, with many of them yet to see sizable increases in orders or demand.

A spat over islands with China that led to boycotts of Japanese goods and rising energy purchases to compensate for idled nuclear plants combined to give Japan a record annual trade deficit last year, the government said Thursday, in another sign of a steadily worsening trade situation for this onetime export juggernaut.

In the fiscal year ended March 31, imports exceeded exports by a margin of Yen 8.17 trillion, or $83.4 billion at current exchange rates, the Ministry of Finance said. That was almost twice as large as the previous year's deficit, also a record, and the largest shortfall since the ministry started keeping such data in 1979.

Japan's trade balance has been hit hard since the accident two years ago at the Fukushima nuclear plant forced the nation to shut down all but one of its nuclear plants, and to make up for the resulting energy shortfall by importing more natural gas and other fossil fuels.

However, even before the accident, Japan had seen a steady erosion of the huge trade surpluses that it long enjoyed with the rest of the world, as Japan's once proudly nationalistic consumers have grown increasingly hungry for low-cost manufactured goods from China. According to the ministry, surging imports of Chinese-made smartphones and computer chips helped give Japan a $40.7 billion bilateral trade deficit with China last year.

At the same time, exports to China dropped 9.1 percent as a flare- up in tensions over disputed islands in the East China Sea led Chinese citizens to protest with violent street demonstrations and anti-Japanese boycotts. The declines were particularly painful for Japanese manufacturers as the fast-growing Chinese economy had surpassed the United States in 2009 as the largest foreign market for Japanese-made goods. …

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