Australia's Trade Deficit Widens

Australia posted its second-largest trade deficit on record in January as imports rose and floods disrupted exports of coal., Bloomberg 3/7/2008 10:09:00 AM

The shortfall widened to A$2.72 billion ($2.5 billion) from a revised A$1.94 billion in December, the Bureau of Statistics said in Sydney today. The median estimate of 24 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News was for a A$2.55 billion gap.

A worsening trade gap may further curb the economy, which grew at the slowest pace in more than a year in the fourth quarter as resource shipments dropped. Deliveries of coal from BHP Billiton Ltd. and other producers have been hampered by floods, and cyclones led to the temporary closure of oil fields and iron-ore export ports this year. Imports rose 5 percent in January from December.

Australia's economy is in its 17th year of expansion, which has underpinned consumer demand for imported televisions and electronics and corporate purchases of imported machinery.

The Australian dollar traded at 93.53 U.S. cents at 4:33 p.m. in Sydney from 93.40 cents before the report was released. The yield on the two-year bond was unchanged at 6.55 percent.

Australia's exports increased 2 percent in January to A$19 billion. Farm shipments, such as wheat, wool and meat, advanced 1 percent. Exports of non-rural goods dropped 2 percent. Overseas shipments account for about 20 percent of gross domestic product.

The monthly trade balance has been in deficit for almost six years as exporters battled congestion at mines and inadequate infrastructure at ports. Crop production was cut by the worst drought in a century in southern parts of the nation.

Coupled with that, cyclones and floods in the country's north this year have hindered shipments by the world's largest exporter of coal and iron ore.

The government's commodities forecaster said this week that raw-materials exports will increase the most in 29 years, driven by demand from China.

Prices for Australia's top five commodity exports -- iron ore, coking coal, thermal coal, gold and crude oil -- have risen to records this year. Total imports rose to A$21.7 billion in January, today's report showed.

Imports of capital goods, which include business machinery, dropped 3 percent and imports of intermediate goods, such as chemicals, climbed 13 percent. Purchases of consumer goods increased 3 percent.