Japan logs record trade deficit in Jan.-June period

Japan registered a 4,843.8 billion yen ($48.7 billion) goods trade deficit for the six months through June, the biggest on record for any six-month period, as the sharp depreciation of the yen hoisted import costs despite a rebound in exports, the government said Wednesday.

During the first half of 2013, the value of imports rose 9.2 percent on year to 38,801.2 billion yen, with those of liquefied natural gas jumping 13.2 percent and of crude oil increasing 6.0 percent, the Finance Ministry said in a preliminary report.

Exports, a key engine of Japan's economic growth, grew 4.2 percent to 33,957.4 billion yen on the back of the yen's weakness and a recovery in the U.S. economy, but still failed to outweigh imports, the report showed.

The yen slid against the U.S. dollar by 18.9 percent from a year earlier in the January-June period, the ministry said.

A falling yen usually supports exports by making Japanese products cheaper abroad and boosts the value of overseas revenues in yen terms, but it pushes up import prices. Japan depends on imports for more than 90 percent of its energy needs.

Shipments to China, Japan's biggest trade partner, declined 0.6 percent to 5,837.9 billion yen, amid the lingering effects of a bilateral territorial row over a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.

But Japan's imports from China went up 11.4 percent to 8,110.6 billion yen, the largest since comparable data became available in 1979.

Exports to the 27-member European Union dropped 3.3 percent to 3,284.8 billion yen, as the region's economy remained sluggish, although imports from the region gained 12.1 percent to 3,618.3 billion yen.

Japan's shipments to the United States surged 11.5 percent to 6,220.6 billion yen, while imports climbed 6.0 percent to 3,278.3 billion yen, the ministry said.

In June alone, Japan's trade deficit stood at 180.8 billion yen, marking the 12th straight month of red ink.

The figures were measured on a customs-cleared basis.