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SA’s trade gap narrows in February

‘We remain wary over the outlook for the trade balance – BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities economist.
South Africa’s trade deficit narrowed in February as oil imports fell and gold and diamond exports increased.

The trade gap shrank to R8.5 billion ($700 million) from a record R24.2 billion in January, the Pretoria-based Revenue Service said in an e-mailed statement on Tuesday. The median estimate of 17 economists surveyed by Bloomberg was for a shortfall of R5.7 billion. The deficit for the first two months of the year was R32.7 billion compared with R15.5 billion in 2014.

The volume of oil imports fell 22% in February as the price of Brent crude started to recover from an almost six- year low on January 13. Importers such as Eskom used the record-low oil costs to step up their purchases. The utility, which generates about 95% of South Africa’s power, is burning more diesel as it struggles to meet demand.

“For the rest of 2015 we expect exports to recover and that should help us to record a lower trade deficit,” Isaac Matshego, an economist at Nedbank, said by phone from Johannesburg. “All of this depends on the avoidance of major production disruptions.”

The gap on the current account, the broadest measure of trade in goods and services, averaged 5.4% of gross domestic product in 2014 and will narrow to 4.5% this year, according to the National Treasury. A current-account deficit of close to 5% of GDP puts pressure on the rand, Jeffrey Schultz, an economist at BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities in Johannesburg, said by phone.

The rand declined 0.4% and to 12.1979 per dollar as of 2:49 pm in Johannesburg. Yields on government rand bonds due December 2026 fell six basis points to 7.89%.

Exports climb

Exports rose 15% to R76.9 billion in February as shipments of vehicles and transport equipment surged 74% and sales of precious metals and stones increased 30%. Shipments of mineral products, which include coal and iron ore, fell by R1.9 billion, or 11%.

Imports fell 6.5% to R85.3 billion as purchases of mineral products, which include oil, dropped 23%. Machinery and electronics purchases declined by R2.4 billion, or 11%.

The monthly trade figures are often volatile, reflecting the timing of shipments of commodities such as oil and diamonds.

©2015 Bloomberg News

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