Japan logged its largest current account deficit in November 2013, marking the second straight month of red ink as a weaker yen pushed up costs for energy imports, but failed to buoy Japan's key export sector, according to data issued by the Finance Ministry Tuesday.
The current account deficit totaled 592.8 billion yen (5.75 billion U.S. dollars) on an unadjusted basis and came in higher than median economists' expectations, and marked the biggest deficit since record keeping began in 1985, the ministry said in a preliminary report.
Despite solid domestic consumption ahead of a planned sales tax hike from 5 to 8 percent in April, economists said that the deficit would likely remain in the months ahead as resource-poor Japan is reliant on foreign imports for around 90 percent of its fossil fuel needs.
Following the tsunami-triggered nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan's northeast in March 2011 and the subsequent shutdown of all of Japan's nuclear power stations, Japan has been solely reliant on fossil fuel imports from the Middle East to power the nation, which, as the yen has weakened against other major currencies, continues to weigh heavily on Japan's balance sheet.
The ministry said that during the recording month, the nation' s imports rose 22.1 percent from a year earlier to 66.66 billion dollars, with exports adding 17.6 percent to 54.52 billion dollars.
But despite rising exports, analysts noted that the weakening of the Japanese currency, an intrinsic element of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's aggressive economic policy, which has seen the currency weaken 15 percent between January and November 2013, hasn' t given exporters the boost they need, due to increasing competition from developing economies and downside factors affecting overseas markets.
Exporters rely on a weaker yen to improve competitiveness in overseas markets and the companies can see profit yields augment when repatriated into Japanese currency. The ministry noted that in the recording period, the Japanese currency retreated 23.7 percent from a year earlier to 100.03 yen versus the U.S. dollar and to 135.00 yen against the euro, a 30.0 percent slide.
The surplus in income account increased for the third straight month to 900.2 billion yen (about 8.71 billion dollars), a 0.8- percent growth on year.
The services sector registered a deficit of 1.06 billion dollars in November, said the ministry.
The current account balance, whether in deficit or surplus, is regarded by governments and economists as one of the widest barometers of international trade for a nation and a continued deficit, as Japan may be experiencing now, is causing concern among some analysts about diminishing faith in Japanese markets leading to a potential financial crisis, as the nation sets about reducing its massive public debt burden at more than 200 percent of GDP and the biggest in the industrialized world.
Positive net sales by Japan abroad generally contribute to a current account surplus, and because the trade balance is typically the largest component of the current account, a current account surplus is usually associated with positive net exports.
November's reading, according to analysts, is an indicator that export-reliant Japan is not generating enough net sales overseas to compensate the high costs of importing fuel.
Japan's current account balance is one of the major gauges of the nature of Japan's foreign trade and when the nation's account is in surplus it increases Japan's net foreign assets by the corresponding amount, and a current account deficit does the reverse.
Both government and private payments are included in the calculation.