Australian Trade Deficit Narrows


Australia's trade deficit narrowed in March as iron ore, coal and wheat exports jumped, stoking an economic expansion in its 17th year.

The trade shortfall shrank to A$2.74 billion ($2.6 billion) from a record A$3.26 billion in February, the Bureau of Statistics said in Sydney today.

Rising exports will bolster Australia's $1 trillion economy, which expanded at the slowest pace in a year in the fourth quarter because of a drop in resource shipments. Wheat production may almost double from a year earlier amid surging prices and higher rainfall, a report forecast today. The government also predicts overseas sales of raw materials will increase by the most in three decades over the coming 12 months, driven by demand from China.

The Australian dollar traded at 94.80 U.S. cents at 12:24 p.m. in Sydney from 94.64 cents before the figures were released. The yield on the two-year government bond was unchanged at 6.57 percent.

Exports rose 4 percent to A$19.2 billion in March from February, today's report showed. Iron ore shipments jumped 30 percent and coal rose 31 percent. Wheat increased 12 percent and meat surged 8 percent.

The monthly trade balance, which has been in deficit since March 2002, widened in the three previous months as exporters battled bottlenecks at mines and congestion at ports and railways. Crop production has been cut by the worst drought in a century in the southern parts of the nation.

Economic growth slowed to 0.6 percent in the fourth quarter as transport constraints reduced exports from Australia, the world's largest shipper of coal, iron ore and wool. Overseas shipments account for about 20 percent of gross domestic product.

Floods in the northeast of the country have also constrained shipments of natural resources. BHP Billiton Ltd., the world's biggest mining company, said on Feb. 25 that heavy rainfall in Queensland may cut its share of coal output from two ventures by as much as 15 percent of last year's total.

Total imports rose 1 percent to A$21.9 billion in March, today's report showed.

The highest borrowing costs in almost 12 years are leaving households with less money to spend on imported goods, and forcing companies to cut purchases of foreign-made machinery.

The central bank will probably keep its benchmark interest rate unchanged at 7.25 percent today, after increasing borrowing costs in March and February, according to economists surveyed by Bloomberg News. The decision is due at 2:30 p.m. in Sydney.

Imports of household electronics fell 7 percent and clothing declined 3 percent.


TradingEconomics.com, Bloomberg
5/5/2008 7:35:34 PM