TOKYO — Japan's surplus with its sometimes irritable trading partners jumped a hefty 25% in July, the seventh monthly increase in a row, despite a shrinking surplus with the recession-hit United States.
The Finance Ministry reported Tuesday that the overall surplus--the difference between the value of Japan's exports and its imports--climbed to $6.68 billion during the month from a revised $5.33 billion a year earlier.
"Import growth was higher than expected or the surplus would have been even wider," said Kazuko Mizuno, economist at Baring Securities (Japan) Ltd.
However, the surplus with the United States, which has at times been the severest critic of Japanese trading practices, narrowed to $3.01 billion, from a revised $3.07-billion surplus in July, 1990.
Economists said they expect the overall surplus to continue widening for at least the next six months as the U.S. economy starts to show signs of life and oil prices fall relative to last year.
A more robust U.S. economy would mean more buying of Japanese goods. Tuesday's figures showed that Japanese exports to the United States increased in July for the first time since February.
And overall, exports climbed 11.1% to $26.57 billion, the 14th straight month of increases.
Japanese officials, however, said the long-term pattern of trade is difficult to determine. "We are facing a difficult phase, but we can't say yet that wider surpluses have become a clear trend," a Finance Ministry official said.
The official attributed the growing exports to a 9.3% appreciation of the yen from a year ago. A stronger yen inflates the value of Japanese exports when they are measured in dollar terms.
Imports climbed 7.1% to $19.89 billion, the third straight monthly increase. Much of the month's gain came from a 31.8% increase in the value of crude oil imports.