The shortfall shrank to NZ$4.41 billion ($3.5 billion) in the 12 months ended Feb. 29 from NZ$4.8 billion in the year through January, Statistics New Zealand said in Wellington today. It was the narrowest gap since the 12 months ended April 2005 and was less than the median estimate of NZ$4.54 billion in a Bloomberg survey of 10 analysts.
Rising exports may drive New Zealand's economic growth as the central bank keeps interest rates at a record high to curb domestic spending. Overseas shipments, which make up 30 percent of the economy, have been underpinned by rising prices for butter and cheese plus output from the new Tui oil field.
New Zealand's dollar rose to 80.58 U.S. cents at 10:56 a.m. in Wellington from 80.5 cents immediately before the report.
Economists monitor the rolling, 12-month trade balance because of volatility in the month-on-month figures, which aren't seasonally adjusted. The February trade surplus was NZ$258 million compared with a NZ$127 million deficit a year earlier. Economists expected a NZ$140 million surplus.
Exports rose 30 percent from a year earlier to a record NZ$3.71 billion. Economists expected a 22 percent increase.
Sales of milk powder, butter and cheese, which make up almost one-fifth of overseas shipments, jumped 72 percent to NZ$1.03 billion in February from a year earlier, the agency said.
Exports of petroleum products increased to NZ$178 million last month from NZ$31 million a year earlier, following the commencement of production at the Tui field in July.
Prices for commodities that make up 70 percent of total overseas shipments have been rising, led by demand for dairy products. The international price of New Zealand's commodity exports soared 27 percent in February from a year earlier, according to an index compiled by ANZ National Bank Ltd.
Imports rose 16 percent to NZ$3.45 billion in February from a year earlier buoyed by purchases of crude oil, cars and machinery, today's report showed. Economists expected an 11 percent gain.
Reserve Bank of New Zealand Governor Alan Bollard raised the benchmark interest rate four times last year to a record 8.25 percent to curb consumer spending and inflation. Higher borrowing costs may reduce demand for imported computers and mobile telephones.
Oil imports almost tripled after crude prices jumped 48 percent and shipments rose to a 13-month high 408,000 tons, the agency said.