Japan logs trade deficit in May as energy costs mount

Japan logged a surprise deficit of 203 billion yen (1.8 billion), according to data from the finance ministry, despite market expectations that the world's third largest economy would have posted a surplus.

In commodities, oil prices trended lower.

Nagai said there was no need to be too pessimistic over a single month's figures.

The data showed that rising energy imports offset solid exports to Asia.

However, the 14.9% annual increase in exports for the month of May was actually below the street estimates.

The data for May showed "a correction in speed" but the economy is likely to resume expansion in the July-September quarter, even if it stalls in the April-June quarter, he said.

"The main scenario is Japan's exports will continue to recover", said Shuji Tonouchi, senior market economist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.

Imports are expected to rise 14.5 percent on year after gaining 15.1 percent in April.

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Strong exports have buoyed Japan's moderate but stable growth.

Exports of cars and auto parts rose partly because an quake in Kumamoto a year ago in May temporarily shut down production of these goods, Tonouchi noted.

Japan had a trade deficit of 40.54 billion yen with the European Union, after exports advanced 19.8 percent to 692.37 billion yen and imports rose 12.5 percent to 732.91 billion yen.

Of Japan's 42 workable nuclear reactors, only five are now in operation amid lingering public worries about nuclear power generation following the disaster.

A large trade surplus could draw criticism from the Trump administration, which has repeatedly indicated that it prefers protectionist policies to reduce the US trade deficit and increase exports.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been trying for years to fire up growth and end an extended period of on-and-off deflation through a policy blitz of easy money, stimulus and reform.

Despite the uptrend in the overall economy, consumer prices remain below the Bank of Japan's two percent inflation target.

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