Lower yen ramps up Japan's trade deficit in March

Japan's trade deficit more than quadrupled to $3.7 billion in March compared to the same period a year ago, government data showed Thursday, as a weaker yen inflated import costs.

The monthly trade deficit grew to 362.4 billion yen from the year-before shortfall of 81.8 billion yen, according to finance ministry data.

However, the heavy deficit was still smaller than a prediction of 480 billion yen from economists polled by the Nikkei business daily.

Exports rose 1.1 percent to 6.27 trillion yen while imports climbed 5.5 percent to 6.63 trillion yen.

The yen's average rate was 94.08 to the dollar in March against 81.04 in March 2012, representing a 16 percent drop in the value of the Japanese currency on year, the data showed.

A lower yen helps exporters but pushes up import bills.

Japan's fuel imports have stayed high with the country heavily dependent on burning fossil fuels to generate electricity.

Most nuclear reactors remain off-line as the nation battles safety fears in the aftermath of the huge 2011 earthquake and tsunami that sparked a disaster at the Fukushima nuclear facility.

By region, exports to the United States soared 7.0 percent on robust shipments of electronics parts and cars while exports to China slipped 2.5 percent on slack demand for cars and machines.

Exports to the European Union remained weak, falling 4.7 percent as shipments of cars, video equipment and auto parts declined.