Australia Unexpectedly Posted Trade Deficit in April

Australia’s trade balance unexpectedly turned to a deficit in April as lower prices for coal and iron ore led to the biggest slump in exports since 1997.

The nation posted a A$91 million ($73 million) deficit compared with a revised A$2.3 billion surplus in March, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said.

An 11.3 percent drop in exports in April will buffet an economy that unexpectedly expanded in the first quarter as government cash handouts stoked consumer spending. Mining companies including BHP Billiton Ltd. and Rio Tinto Group are paring investment as overseas demand cools amid the worst global slump since the Great Depression.

Exports fell by the most since July 1997 to A$21.68 billion, the statistics bureau said. Shipments of non-rural goods, which include metals and minerals, slumped 12 percent from March. Agricultural shipments fell 11 percent in April. Exports of grains tumbled 27 percent.

Rio Tinto, the world’s second-largest iron ore exporter, agreed to a 33 percent cut in contract prices with Japanese and Korean steelmakers this year. It has yet to agree on prices with China, the world’s biggest consumer of iron ore. BHP Billiton Ltd. has not agreed on any contract prices yet.

Imports dropped 1.7 percent to A$21.77 billion in April, today’s report showed. Imports of capital goods, such as trucks and machinery, dropped 1 percent and imports of consumer goods decreased 1 percent.

Australia Unexpectedly Posted Trade Deficit in April, Bloomberg
6/4/2009 6:36:25 PM