The monthly deficit was 264.1 billion yen ($2.83 billion), Ministry of Finance data showed on Friday, much larger than a median estimate of 144.2 billion yen in a Reuters poll.
That cut the full-year current account surplus to 4.7 trillion yen, down by more than half from 2011 and the smallest since 1985 when Japan started compiling comparable data.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who won office in December, has explicitly stated he wants to “correct” the trend for excessive yen gains to help the economy.
The current account is expected to improve gradually as a weak yen boosts exports, but some economists say the benefits may not appear until the second quarter of this year.
Until then, the Bank of Japan could lean toward easing monetary policy further as Abe pushes for more aggressive steps from it to end nearly two decades of low-grade deflation.
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