TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan logged its largest goods trade deficit in nearly five years in January amid a steep fall in exports to China, government data showed Wednesday.
The country had a deficit of 1.42 trillion yen ($12.8 billion), the fourth consecutive month of red ink and the widest margin since March 2014. The value of overall exports fell 8.4 percent from a year earlier to 5.57 trillion yen, the smallest figure since January 2017.
That outpaced a 0.6 percent fall in imports to 6.99 trillion yen, as a decline in the global market for crude oil pushed down the cost of Japan's energy imports, according to a preliminary report by the Finance Ministry.
Weakening demand for exports is a concern for the world's third-largest economy, which is believed to be in its longest expansion phase of the postwar era but is also suffering from tepid wage growth.
"We do not expect exports to decelerate sharply in 2019," said Kazuma Maeda, an analyst at Barclays Securities Japan Ltd., while adding there are still "downside risks, including the current slowdown in exports to Asia, signs of weakness in Euro area economic indicators and the potential intensification of the U.S.-China trade conflict."
By region, Japan's deficit with China, its largest trade partner, widened to 879.7 billion yen as exports plunged 17.4 percent amid falling demand for high-tech products such as machinery to manufacture LCDs.
A ministry official told a press briefing that slow activity ahead of the Lunar New Year, which this year fell on Feb. 5, also contributed to the decrease in China-bound products.
Against all of Asia, Japan had a deficit of 571.0 billion yen as exports to South Korea also fell.
With the United States, Japan logged a surplus of 367.4 billion yen as exports of automobiles and construction equipment grew.
Meanwhile, Japan's deficit against the European Union shrank to 96.0 billion yen as both exports and imports fell.
The figures were compiled on a customs-cleared basis.