South Africa January Trade Gap Swells to Biggest Since 1990

(Bloomberg) -- South Africa’s trade deficit swelled to the biggest since at least 1990 in January as imports surged 22 percent and vehicle exports declined.

The 27.7 billion-rand ($2.4 billion) gap compares with December’s revised 15.3 billion-rand positive balance, the Pretoria-based South African Revenue Service said in an emailed statement Wednesday. The median estimate of four economists surveyed by Bloomberg was for a 1.7 billion-rand deficit. The gap was 11.2 billion rand a year earlier.

Positive trade balances have eased pressure on the current account, the broadest measure of trade in goods and services, boosting the rand. The currency is the best performer worldwide against the dollar since the ruling African National Congress voted for Cyril Ramaphosa to lead the party in December, ending Jacob Zuma’s rein. Ramaphosa subsequently became president of the nation whose economy probably expanded by 1 percent in 2017, according to National Treasury estimates. It will probably grow 1.5 percent this year.

The government is battling to return public finances to a sustainable path and stave off another credit-rating downgrade, following years of stagnant growth and policy missteps that left a gaping hole in the budget.

Here are some highlights from the statement:

  • Imports totaled 108.2 billion rand, as inward shipments of original equipment components more than doubled from a month earlier
  • Exports totaled 80.5 billion rand, with vehicle and transport equipment shipments declining 47 percent from December
  • The trade deficit for the year was 27.7 billion rand, compared with a negative balance of 11.3 billion rand a year earlier

The rand weakened 0.3 percent to 11.7561 per dollar by 2:11 p.m. in Johannesburg on Wednesday. The yield on rand-denominated government bonds due December 2026 rose 5 basis points to 8.17 percent.

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

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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