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NZ posts biggest trade deficit in 10 months as imports jump to record

Monday 26th August 2013

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New Zealand recorded its biggest trade deficit in 10 months in July, driven by a jump in imports of crude oil and helicopters while exports fell.

The merchandise trade gap was $774 million last month, for an annual deficit of $1.69 billion, according to Statistics New Zealand. Economists had expected a trade surplus of $50 million in July for an annual deficit of $830 million.

New Zealand's trade balance typically turns to a deficit in July, reflecting seasonal lows in primary produce exports, though there were small surpluses in July 2011 and 2012. The monthly numbers can jump around because of one-off shipments, such as a $152 million jump in helicopter imports in the latest month from a year earlier.

"It's likely that this monthly volatility largely reflects the timing of shipments," said Westpac Banking Corp economist Michael Gordon in a note. "We expect volatility in the trade figures to continue for the next few months as a number of large movements (think drought and large swings in currencies) throw the balance around."

Imports in July rose 17 percent from a year earlier to $4.62 billion, beating the $3.95 billion estimate in a Reuters survey and were a record for a month of July.

Exports of $3.85 billion trailed the forecast of $3.92 billion, reflecting a 64 percent decline in crude oil exports and a 13 percent decline in milk powder, butter and cheese. Exports of aluminium and fruit also fell, while logs and meat gained.

Imports from China climbed 23 percent to $833 million in the latest month from July last year, reflecting shipment of tunnelling equipment and railway goods wagons, while imports from Australia fell 22 percent to $564 million on a drop in crude oil and raw cane sugar.

Exports to Australia, New Zealand's biggest market, fell 14 percent to $760 million on a drop in crude oil sent to New Zealand's nearest neighbour. Shipments to China rose 22 percent to $653 million, led by sheep meat and logs, while the US took 14 percent less at $309 million, beef and milk constituents.

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