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Economy in Brief

Japan's Trade Remains in Deficit
by Robert Brusca  November 20, 2019

Japan is suffering the fate of an economy with strong trade ties to two countries embroiled in a trade war. Japan's largest trade partner is China and its second largest trade partner is the United States. In October, Japan's exports and imports fell month-to-month following gains for both in September after each of them fell in August. Nominal exports and imports both are falling over 12 months, six months and three months. Neither trade flow shows a clear cut case of persistent deceleration but each has a larger drop over three months than over 12 months on annualized growth rates.

Export and import prices also show decline on all three horizons. However, their declines are larger over 12 months than over three months.

Real exports and real imports show declines over 12 months and three months for both exports and imports. Declines over three months are larger than the declines over 12 months.

While Japan's trade position remains in deficit, the deficits have become much smaller as the charts show. That means that the trade sector is siphoning off less of Japan's domestic demand.

The yen against the dollar and against a broad currency basket in real terms has generally been rising, but its path has been moderate.

However, the overpowering trend is that both exports and imports show decelerating trends year-over-year growth. Japan is feeling the global growth slowdown.

This past week BOJ governor Haruhiko Kuroda denied that he said that Japan has unlimited tools or abilities. It is clear that there are pressures being felt in Japan over what can be done. Of course, neither the BOJ nor the ECB nor the Fed are hitting their inflation targets. The BOJ is not alone in the failure. It may have a longer more severe history of missing but all money center inflation-targeting central banks are missing their targets.

Getting growth started has been hard to accomplish everywhere. Fiscal policy is essentially redlined in the U.S., Japan, and the EMU. China has been using debt to try to keep growth aloft, but that is a process that has been less and less effective. Global growth expectations have all its eggs in one basket, hoping for a U.S.-China trade deal. Will it develop, and if it does, will it be enough?

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