TOKYO — Japan's trade surplus declined from year-ago levels for the fifth straight month in September but was up sharply from its August level, the Finance Ministry said Monday.
The surplus with the United States rose to $4.86 billion, up from $4.83 billion in September, 1986, and from $3.73 billion in August of this year. The increase, compared to September of last year, came in spite of a 10.5% increase in Japan's imports from the United States.
"A $1.1-billion deterioration (from August) is not good news for the dollar, there's no question about it," said Jonathan Francis, an international economist for the First Boston investment firm.
Economists agree that Japan's worldwide trade surplus is shrinking, but are puzzled because there is little reflection of that trend in the nation's balance with its most important trading partner.
"The figure with the United States could be a bit of a discouragement for some dealers who had been expecting a better performance," one foreign exchange dealer said.
The increase in the surplus, compared to August, contributed to a drop in the value of the dollar against the Japanese yen Monday because of traders' concerns that the dollar would need to fall more to correct trade imbalances.
In Tokyo, the dollar fell for the fifth consecutive session, to 143.85 Japanese yen from 144.40 yen at Friday's close. It continued to sink throughout the trading day and finished in New York at 143.08 yen, down from 143.68 yen late Friday.
Japan's international trade surplus, which is not adjusted for seasonal fluctuations, was $7.43 billion, down from $8.95 billion in September, 1986, but up from $5.15 billion in August.
Total imports grew 27.6% from a year ago to $12.89 billion, while exports rose 6.7% to $20.33 billion. It was the fifth consecutive month that imports had climbed by 10% or more and the seventh consecutive month that exports had risen by less than 10%.
The value of Japan's imports was pushed up by rising oil prices, Finance Ministry officials said. The country also bought more cars, especially from West Germany, and textile goods, they added.
They said the modest export gain resulted from price increases on exports. Because of the strengthening of the yen, Japanese exporters receive fewer yen now for dollars earned abroad.
More U.S. Food Imported
Japanese exports to the United States in September rose 3.9% from a year ago to $7.58 billion, while imports from the United States rose 10.5% to $2.72 billion.
Japan's imports of U.S. food rose 24.7% to $613.28 million, business machine purchases shot up 39% to $17.94 million and imports of chemical products climbed 9.9% to $339.74 million.
Japanese exports to the United States of cars, trucks and buses fell 0.2% to $2.27 billion, although exports of cars alone rose by 5.2% to $1.97 billion.
Japan recorded a $1.89-billion trade surplus with the European Economic Community, with exports of $3.34 billion, up 8.6%, and imports of $1.45 billion, up 19.3%.
Imports were measured with the dollar at 143.02 yen, compared to 154.66 yen in September, 1986, and 150.83 yen in August. For exports, the rate was 142.94 yen, compared to 154.72 yen a year earlier and 150.83 yen in August.
In an effort to help reduce U.S. trade deficits, major monetary nations agreed in September, 1985, to push down the dollar, which was then trading at 242 yen.