New Zealand Trade Deficit Narrows

New Zealand posted its smallest annual trade deficit in more than six years in August as imports slumped for a fifth month. Exports fell the most in 23 years.

The shortfall narrowed to NZ$2.37 billion ($1.7 billion) in the 12 months ended Aug. 31 from a revised NZ$2.49 billion in the year through July, the statistics bureau said. The gap was larger than a median estimate of NZ$1.94 billion in a Bloomberg survey of nine economists.

The trade deficit is less than half its size at the start of the year as imports have slowed. Imports may rise next year as New Zealand’s economy emerges from a recession. Exports are being curbed by a stronger currency, adding to signs the deficit may begin widening.

Economists monitor a rolling, 12-month trade balance for New Zealand because of volatility in the month-on-month figures, which aren’t seasonally adjusted. In August, there was a trade deficit of NZ$725 million compared with a NZ$848 million gap a year earlier. Economists expected a NZ$329 million deficit.

Imports posted their fifth straight decline from a year earlier, falling 22 percent to NZ$3.47 billion, the statistics agency said.

The drop was led by purchases of fertilizer, steel, cars and gasoline. There was a large aircraft imported in the year- earlier month.

The monthly figures don’t adjust for prices. The value of oil imports dropped 57 percent from a year earlier after prices fell 46 percent.

Imports declined after the economy slumped into a recession in the first quarter of last year, curbing demand for cars and computers. A report this week showed the economy unexpectedly grew 0.1 percent in the second quarter and economists say a gradual recovery in the second half of the year will stoke imports.

Exports fell 23 percent from a year earlier to NZ$2.74 billion, the lowest level since August 2007, today’s report showed. Meat, dairy products and crude oil led the decline.

Overseas shipments of milk powder, butter and cheese, which make up almost one-fifth of total exports, fell 25 percent.

Exports earnings are falling even as world prices of meat, wool and aluminum are rising because the New Zealand dollar’s increase have wiped out those gains.

Since February, prices of commodity exports in world markets have risen 12 percent, according to an index calculated by ANZ National Bank Ltd. Once translated into New Zealand dollars, prices have slumped 13 percent.

New Zealand Trade Deficit Narrows, Bloomberg
9/25/2009 10:10:58 AM