28 Feb 2017

Trade deficit widens after surge in oil imports

2:53 pm on 28 February 2017

The monthly trade deficit has widened, with the recovery in the dairy sector failing to offset a jump in oil imports.

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Exports were up by just 0.3 percent in January, according to new trade figures. Photo: 123rf.com

Official figures released today show a shortfall of $285 million in January, compared with a revised $36m deficit the month before, and a small $12m surplus a year earlier.

The growing economy sucked in imports, which jumped by 8 percent to a record high of $4.2 billion for a January month.

"The import strength was broad-based, and is in line with similarly robust indicators of domestic demand," said ASB senior rural economist Nathan Penny.

The main contribution came from a large rise in crude oil, while there were also gains for cellphones, laptops, televisions and cars.

In contrast, exports edged up by 0.3 percent to $3.9bn.

Improving prices for milk powder prices rose for the fourth consecutive month, though the quantity exported fell.

"The recent rises in the value of dairy shows exporters are getting a better price for their milk powder exports than they were at this time last year," Statistics NZ spokesperson Daria Kwon said.

"The fall in milk powder quantity this month reflects this, with exporters getting more value for less product."

Higher volumes of crude oil and lamb also boosted exports, offsetting lower overseas shipments of logs, casein and wool.

Sales to China and Australia - the country's top two export markets - rose, but exports fell to New Zealand's other main destinations, the United States, Europe, and Japan.

Economists expected some of the boost in imports to be short-lived.

"A significant contributor to the surprisingly large deficit was a spike higher in the volume of oil imports, which is likely to reverse next month," Westpac economist Sarah Drought said.

"Excluding oil imports and exports, the monthly deficit was a more moderate $36m."

On an annual basis, the deficit narrowed slightly to $3.5bn compared to the previous year.

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