Japan reports record annual trade deficit

BBC Tokyo correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes uses three "easy" graphs to explain Japan's huge deficit

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Japan has reported a record annual trade deficit after the weak yen pushed up the cost of energy imports.

Its deficit rose to 11.5 trillion yen ($112bn; £68bn) in 2013 - a 65% jump from a year ago.

Japan has seen its energy imports rise in recent years after it shut all of its nuclear reactors in the aftermath of the tsunami and earthquake in 2011.

But it is having to pay more for those imports after a series of aggressive policy moves weakened the yen sharply.

The Japanese currency fell more than 20% against the US dollar between January and December last year.

The latest trade data showed that while Japan's imports of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) rose 0.2% by volume in 2013 from the previous year - the value of those imports surged nearly 18%.

This is the third year in a row that Japan - traditionally known for the strength of its exports - has reported an annual trade deficit.

'Costly flip side'

Japan, the world's third-largest economy, has seen its growth stagnate over the past two decades.

Japanese Yen v US Dollar

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In an attempt to change that, policymakers have unveiled a series of aggressive moves over the past few months, including doubling the country's money supply.

The measures, led by Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, have come to be known as 'Abenomics'.

The steps have had a big impact on Japan's currency - which has fallen sharply against the US dollar.

A weak currency bodes well for Japan's exports - a key driver of its growth - making them cheaper for foreign buyers. A weak yen also boosts profits of exporters when they repatriate their overseas earnings back home.

The hope has been that a rise in exports, coupled with a jump in earnings of exporters, will aid Japan's economic recovery.

However, the weak currency has also made imports more expensive and affected the country's trade balance.

"This is the costly flip side of Abenomics," Martin Schulz of Fujitsu Research Institute in Tokyo told the BBC.

"The overall cost of imports is going up, but the exports are not rising enough to offset that."

Mr Schulz said a key reason behind that was the fact that "the yen's weakness has yet to have a strong and positive impact on small and medium-sized exporters".

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