Australia has recorded a lower than expected trade surplus, below $2 billion, with the previous month’s result also downwardly revised.
Bureau of Statistics figures show that Australia exported about $1.9 billion more than it imported in November, down from a $2 billion surplus in October and $2.8 billion in September.
Economists were typically expecting a trade surplus of $2.2 billion, only marginally down on the previous month’s original result of $2.3 billion.
The export figures showed some signs of weakness, with a sharp 60 per cent increase in the very volatile “non-monetary gold” component, along with a 4 per cent rise in iron ore sales propping up a 1 per cent rise in exports.
The biggest drag was a 9 per cent slide in overseas sales of coal, coke and briquettes.
Services exports rose 1 per cent in both trend and seasonally adjusted terms, with travel a key component of the gains as a lower Australian dollar lures tourists.
However, some detail within the import figures showed positive signs for the broader economy, with imports of capital goods (items used by businesses) rising almost 7 per cent in November.
“The 6.5 per cent month-on-month jump in capital goods imports is a positive sign as it suggests that business investment is on the mend,” wrote Marcel Theliant from Capital Economics.
Imports of consumption goods rose 2 per cent, which may also help allay some of the worst fears about a household spending downturn.
Westpac’s Andrew Hanlan said the biggest surprise for him was the strength in the value of fuel, although this largely cancelled itself out in terms of the trade balance now that Australia has ramped up its LNG exports to offset its petroleum imports.
“The main surprise — on both the import and export side — was the resilience of fuel despite the sharp fall in global energy prices,” he wrote in a note on the data.
“The upshot, both imports and exports advanced rather than declined as we anticipated.”
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