New Zealand Annual Trade Gap Narrows

New Zealand’s annual trade deficit unexpectedly narrowed in January as demand for imported passenger cars and machinery slowed amid a recession that entered its fifth quarter., Bloomberg 2/26/2009 5:46:14 AM

The gap narrowed to NZ$5.48 billion ($2.8 billion) in the 12 months ended Jan. 31 from NZ$5.61 billion in the year through December, Statistics New Zealand said in Wellington today.

New Zealand’s economy has been in a recession since the first quarter of last year, prompting companies to reduce investment and consumers to cut spending. Pumpkin Patch Ltd., a children’s apparel retailer, said this week it is slashing prices and accepting lower margins to maintain sales.

The nation’s currency has fallen 28 percent against the U.S. dollar the past six months, cushioning the value of exports as a global recession curbs demand.

Economists monitor the rolling, 12-month trade balance because of volatility in the month-on-month figures, which aren’t seasonally adjusted. January’s trade deficit was NZ$187 million compared with NZ$311 million a year earlier.

Imports declined 0.9 percent in January from a year earlier to NZ$3.36 billion, the statistics agency said. Exports rose 3 percent to NZ$3.18 billion

Imports fell to a 19-month low and declined from a year earlier for the first time since August 2007, the agency said.

Passenger vehicle imports fell 30 percent from January last year to an 11-year low. Mechanical equipment purchases also declined. The value of capital goods imports was the lowest since July 2007.

Fuel and crude oil imports increased in January. The import and export figures aren’t adjusted for inflation and reflect changing commodity prices as well as actual shipments. Crude oil shipments rose 51 percent, offsetting a 19 percent drop in prices.

Exports increased by the smallest amount since August 2007 amid a slump in overseas sales of crude oil and aluminum. Crude oil exports fell 79 percent to NZ$56 million. Meat sales rose 10 percent and there were gains for logs, fruit and fish.

Sales of milk powder, butter and cheese, which make up almost one-fifth of overseas shipments, fell 0.8 percent.

World prices of butter, meat and other commodities dropped for a sixth straight month in January and were 27 percent lower than in January 2008, according to an index compiled by ANZ National Bank Ltd.

New Zealand Annual Trade Gap Narrows